150 years ago this week – on April 14, 1865, to be exact – President Abraham Lincoln was watching Tom Taylor’s comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. When Joseph Jefferson, the actor playing Asa Trenchard, uttered his famous laugh line “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap” another actor, John Wilkes Booth, slipped into Lincoln’s box, fired the shot that would prove fatal to the president, and escaped. That night, the remainder of the performance was, of course, suspended, but the play endured. Was this due to its now-notorious status, or despite it? Perhaps a bit of both.
Prior to that tragic evening, Our American Cousin had been a smash hit in its own right. Premiered at Laura Keene’s eponymous theater in New York in 1858, the play ran for 150 nights in New York and 496 performances in London. After Lincoln’s assassination, it remained very popular for decades. If you’re up for a bit of Victorian comedy this weekend, you can see Our American Cousin in its entirety, presented in the courtyard of the Robert Long House in Fell’s Point. Adapted by Steven Lampredi and Buff Huntley, the play is presented in period acting style, which requires performers to direct their lines largely to the audience, rather than to one another, as is common today. Candle footlights and music of (or at least known in) the era add to the ambiance. Oh, and perhaps you recognize the actress at far right in this photo?
(Photo credit: Susan Izard)
Yes, that’s Yours Truly, portraying Georgina, the “delicate” fiancee of the eccentric Lord Dundreary, who speaks in bizarre aphorisms worthy of Ionesco and could well have been the inspiration for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. In the original production, Dundreary was played by E.A. Sothern, who refused to do the role unless he could expand it – and did he ever! Dundreary grew from a minor role to the hit of the show, and Sothern made quite a career of him. Sothern’s wife was the original Georgina, and director Steven Lampredi has chosen to have that bit of history repeat itself by casting my husband, Jim Knost, as Dundreary this time around.
(L-R, back row: Mary Thomas, Kathie Mack, Kim Curtis, Lucie Poirier, Linda Schwab Deutsch. Foreground: Jim Knost and Daniel Riker. Photo credit: Susan Izard)
A few of us are playing more than one role in this production, and I’m glad I only have to change characters once! I go from “Skillet”, the cook, to the secretly starving Georgina. Most apropos, I think.
(Steven Lampredi, Dyana Neal, Brian Mac Ian. Photo credit: Susan Izard)
If you’re up for a bit of Victorian comedy this weekend, remaining performances of Our American Cousin run through Sunday, April 19.
Thursday April 16, 7:30 – $15
Friday April 17, 8:00 – $15
Saturday April 18, 2pm and 8pm – $20
Sunday April 19, 2pm – Pay what you can.
For more information, please visit http://www.newoldtheater.org/
Please be aware that the Privateers Festival is also being held in Fell’s Point this Saturday and Sunday, so allow extra time for travel and parking, or consider taking transit. Hope you can join us at Trenchard Manor!Tags:Abraham Lincoln, assassination, Brian Mac Ian, Daniel Riker, Dyana Neal, E.A. Sothern, Fell's Point, Ford's Theater, Jim Knost, John Wilkes Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Kathie Mack, Kim Curtis, Laura Keene, Linda Schwab Deutsch, Lucie Poirier, Mary Thomas, New Old Theater, Our American Cousin, play, Robert Long House, Steven Lampredi, theater, Tom Taylor, Victorian