The Great One’s Wife: : Mary Todd Lincoln referred to her late husband as The Great One. she was a traditional wife, raising – and losing – three sons. After the assassination, her sole surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, confiscated her money and possessions and had her committed to an insane asylum. New York playwright Catherine Filloux penned a wonderful character study, “Mary and Myra,” pitting the dutiful wife against an ardent suffragist, Myra Bradwell, Illinois’ first female lawyer. There is little in the public record, and Filloux fleshes out the story with two wonderful creations. The piece lends itself extremely well to a reading. And WRITE OUT LOUD, which specializes in reading literature aloud to live audiences, has chosen well – and cast well – for its first foray into a play. Kim Strassburger, a fine director and dramaturge, helmed this production, which includes a few props and lovely period costumes. It’s easy to forget this is a reading, especially with performers as compelling as Veronica Murphy (co-founder of Write Out Loud) and Linda Libby (currently starring in Moxie Theatre’s “The Butcher of Baraboo,”…). WOL performed the piece of couple of months ago, and is reprising it as part of fundraising events for Francine Busby, who’s running for Congress in the 50th District. This week’s performance was at the Carlsbad Library. The next presentation is called “High Tea and Theater” and will take place Saturday, June 20, from 3~6pm in a private La Jolla home…It’s definitely worth a look-see.
Set in the summer of 1875, the 90 minute play chronicles the prickly friendship between Mrs. Lincoln and Ms. bradwell, who’s hellbent on getting the former first lady out of the barred-window hellhole, by exposing the injustices of her trial and the shady business dealings of her son. As they reveal details of their private lies, and share their disparate perceptions of womanhood and personal freedom, both Mary’s sanity and Myra’s motives are called into question.
Murphy is wonderful as Mary, a woman rife with contradictions: one moment calm, pleasant, clear-eyed and rational; the next, angry, impulsive, explosive and delusional. Libby’s Myra is also fascinatingly complex, a smart, accomplished publisher, activist and attorney who’s thwarted in her every professional effort. She chafes against the men and the system that insist she belongs at home. Her no-nonsense demeanor and outspoken nature belie hidden problems as mother and wife, though the sexual revelations about her marriage seem a bit gratuitous. Then there’s the backstory of the death of one of her two daughters (she actually had four children, and two died young, but that’s not in the play). Among other things, according to Filloux, the two women seem to share the neglect of a living child after the death of other offspring. The play has an interesting trajectory, as the emotions and argument (personal and philosophical) take some thought-provoking twists and turns. Though Bradwell seemed to have been seeking acclaim with the Lincoln case, and went all the way to the Supreme Court with her own suit to be admitted to the Bar, she is still relegated to a footnote in history. And most people don’t know much about Mary Todd Lincoln’s emotional state, except that she, like her husband, was prone to depression. A captivating story, excellently enacted.