There has been pent-up audience anticipation for Garrett Heater’s new play Lincoln’s Blood that fledgling playwrights die for. His previous works, including Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (2010), The Romanovs (2011) and Playing God (2012), have all been box office hits for Covey Theatre Company.
Blood is based reliably on historical record, with the playwright supplying motivation, juxtaposition and dialogue. Heater has done his homework scrupulously, and he expects audiences to come to the Mulroy Civic Center’s BeVard Studio well-prepared.
Lincoln never appears, but action in the first act revolves around his assassination on April 14, 1865. The second act traces in achronological time how the assassination deeply affected the lives of six people close to the shooting, starting with Mary Todd Lincoln (Kate Huddleston) and her servant Elizabeth Keckley (Karin Franklin-King), and shooter John Wilkes Booth (Ryan Santiago) and the owner of his boardinghouse, Mary Surratt (Karis Wiggins). In the middle are Army officer Henry Rathbone (Darian Sundberg) and his fiancée Clara Harris (Maya Dwyer), who were in the presidential box on the fatal night.
All these figures, including Henry and Clara, have been subject to fictional or cinematic recreation, but in going to his sources, Heater ignores all of them. His Mary Todd, for example, is unrelated to the solid helpmate Sally Field delivered in Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln. Huddleston as the same woman begins as a flibbertigibbet and spendthrift, perhaps borrowing a patch from Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, one of Huddleston’s prize-winning roles. Similarly, Ryan Santiago as Booth is not the cool dude in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins but rather a self-satisfied ham.
One of the sublime satisfactions in seeing a Heater original is that the playwright has crafted lines and movements to suit the strengths of performers he know well. Much as he likes Huddleston’s quickstep, he probes more deeply into the ambiguous characters Henry Rathbone (with actor Darian Sundberg) and Surratt. Several historians have argued that Surratt was wrongly implicated in the conspiracy, and yet she could hardly be completely innocent, as Karis Wiggins’ performance implies.
Despite Lincoln’s Blood’s bare set, the period duds from CNY Costumes, and wigs from Karen Procopio and Billy Buchanan make it one of the poshest Covey productions ever.
Covey Theatre Company’s Lincoln’s Blood concludes with performances on Friday, Nov. 7, 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 8, 2 p.m., at the Mulroy Civic Center’s BeVard Studio, 411 Montgomery St.