IndyFringe: Abraham Lincoln, Hoosier Hero

This is part of IndyFringe 2021, Aug. 19-Sept. 5 (individual performance times vary) in downtown Indianapolis. Details and tickets at IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

The stage has just a chair and a 36-star United States flag – and Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I know it’s actor and historical interpreter Danny Russel, but it feels like this is the closest anyone could ever come to seeing America’s 16th President in the flesh.

He puts us at ease immediately with his famous sense of humor – one can tell he grew up in Indiana from his corny jokes – and he feels a little relieved that as much as he loved theater, this venue (at the Murat Oasis) doesn’t have a balcony.

He establishes his Hoosier bona fides, noting that at age 7 he moved from Kentucky to then-wilderness Indiana, and his father placed in the already-tall boy’s hands an axe – which he said served him well. But even more useful to him were books, including his mother’s Bible, his first “library.”

This brilliant first-person history fills in so much of what we little know or long forgot about Mr. Lincoln, including what a prodigy he was, writing all the correspondence for his illiterate father at age 10, self-educating not only from his Step-Mammy Sally’s books (he had less than 300 days of formal education in his life, he said) but later from law books to become an Illinois pioneer lawyer, arguing 5,800 cases.

The jokes and humorous observations are tempered with moments of dark drama, shedding tears not only over various family members who died, but also in rage as he saw the evil of slavery first-hand on a trip to Louisiana. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong!” he declares.

Lincoln notes that he is the only lawyer to ever have the nickname, “Honest,” and elaborates on how he actually earned that sobriquet.

We learn of his courtship of Mary Todd, his many business failures, and his political career, including his famous verbal sparring with Stephen A. Douglas in the 1858 Senate race.

Things get a little more serious as he relates his tumultuous Presidency (1861-65) and the horrors of the Civil War, which would claim three percent of the U.S. population, he notes. Lincoln relates his proudest moment, when, with a tired but steady hand, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation – “My soul is in it.”

After one of the most horrific battles of the War, he is asked to speak at the dedication of a cemetery for the fallen. After the era’s greatest orator holds forth for over two hours, Mr. Lincoln steps up on that Gettysburg platform to say just a few words…

Please don’t miss your opportunity to see arguably our greatest President, live and in person.

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