Lexington Children's Theatre's latest show opens like so many others — with a fun, creative curtain speech.
Actor Robert Shryock, in costume designer K. Moriah Smith's 19th-century garb, walks onto the stage peddling newspapers. He then reads some important headlines from the paper — announcing the show, its sponsors, and outlining some theater guidelines before the world premiere of Sandra Fenichel Asher's biographical play, Keeping Mr. Lincoln.
That kind of creative attention to detail makes even curtains speeches at LCT interesting and continues throughout the length of the production.
Ranging from 1809 to 1865 and covering Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, and, as the playbill states, "wherever news travels," Keeping Mr. Lincoln offers a delightful glimpse into the background of our 16th president. Tightly directed by Vivian Snipes, the production is more than a children's version of biographical facts, it is a fascinating exploration of the key characters and influences in young Abraham Lincoln's life that helped to shape the future president.
Actors Shryock, Matthew Ancarrow, Kristen Smiley and Brian C. Gray form a tight-knit, powerful ensemble, crafting dozens of sharply defined characters among the four of them, all of which seamlessly interact with impressive fluidity and timing.
Perhaps the most impressive, and most unusual, hallmark of the show is that no one single actor "plays" Lincoln. They all do. And they all do a fabulous job.
Basically, Lincoln is portrayed by whomever is wearing the big, black hat.
While the biographical signposts that marked Lincoln's trajectory from poor farm boy to commander in chief form the structure of the plot, it is the charming anecdotal side indulgences that prove most rich and in a way, most revelatory of the young Lincoln's traits.
A prank he played on his stepmother, a wrestling match as a young man or granting a Confederate soldier's release from a Union jail to spend his few remaining days with family are but a few of the colorful glimpses into lesser-known aspects of Lincoln's life that prove entertaining and touching.
A particularly striking scene is the metronome-laden re-enactment of a typical day for Lincoln in the White House. Starting at 6 a.m. and ending past midnight, we learn of his ambivalent appetite, that he set aside time each day to meet the public, and that he visited the War Department several times a day. We also witness how he treasured his family life, taking frequent carriage rides with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, or allowing his sons to play raucously and freely, with little chiding toward more seemly behavior.
Overall, Snipes' rendering of Asher's play offers more than a glimpse into the factual truths of history. It also is an important examination of how our leaders grow into adults — how a combination of innate character traits along with a mélange of people and circumstances help to form our adult identities — a useful lesson for children poised to begin their own growing up.