As if Abraham Lincoln did not have enough worries in December 1864, he was facing a crisis of Christmas presents: the pair of gloves he plans to give to his wife was accidentally left in the summer cottage. No other option than to go alone, although the death threats have increased and his security officer has forbidden him to go anywhere without accompaniment.
The situation of the 16th President's holiday is just one of the many intrigues of "A Christmas of the Civil War: An American Musical Celebration", the overly rich and sentimental animation that is now held at Stage One. Although written by prominent playwright Paula Vogel, this seasonal offer is neither memorable nor bold: it is the theatrical equivalent of a Christmas card Punch stapled on a copy of the Doris Kearns Goodwin flap. Nevertheless, the lively and engaging production of director Deidra LaWan Starnes capitalizes on the accessibility and humor of the series. This piece will play with competence and will undoubtedly seduce the theater lovers in search of good end-of-year dishes.
Jessica Cancino's semi-abstract set, which includes a balcony and staircase, creates an epic ambience. The lighting of John D. Alexander adds an emotional charge. These are the appropriate aesthetic complements for Vogel's entanglement of poignant and optimistic stories of the Civil War, located in army encampments, the White House, and other places along the Potomac River. While Lincoln (Russell Rinker, a great friend) plans to recover the gloves, his wife (Rebecca Ballinger, just mercurial) goes to his friend and seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley (Ayanna Hardy, exuding). Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth (Joshua Simon) and some embarrassed co-conspirators are trying to kidnap the president; a girl (Karma Price) escaping slavery is separated from her mother (Billie Krishawn); and an African American mourning soldier (a haunted V. Savoy McIlwain) clashes with a boy (Sophie Schulman) who joined Mosby's Raiders, Confederate supporters.
Starnes makes the story both intimate and rich in abilities: a natural continuum seems to associate comic sequences (a horse and a mule falling in love) with sad characters (a dying soldier) and historical cameos (like Ulysses S. Grant ). Melodious music, a major element of production, also contributes to mood changes. Three instrumentalists perform atmospheric ambient music and accompany them, including religious songs, spiritual songs and historical songs, such as "Maryland, My Maryland". Bobby "McCoy and Leigh Delano Daryl Waters has supervised, arranged and orchestrated the music for the original production of" A Civil War Christmas "at the Connecticut Long Wharf Theater.)
In one scene, a character compares the star of Christmas story to stars guiding slaves on the Underground Railroad. An interpretation of the song "Follow the Drinking Gourd" referring to the constellation becomes a moving meditation on the story, the holidays and the hope.
A Civil War Christmas: An American Music Celebration, by Paula Vogel, on a music by Daryl Waters. Directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes; costume design, Danielle Preston; his, David Lamont Wilson; accessories, Cindy Landrum Jacobs; assistant director, Rocky Nunzio. With Suzy Alden, Demitrus Carter, Tiziano D'Affuso and Gary L. Perkins III. About 2:30. $ 15 to $ 39. Until December 23rd at the 1st stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, McLean. 703-854-1856. 1ststage.org.