Take two famous historical orators and reenact their meetings together and you get “Necessary Sacrifices“ starring Craig Wallace as Frederick Douglass and David Selby as President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. The play is by Richard Hellesen and directed by Jennifer L. Nelson.
Wallace and Selby both do excellent jobs in their respective roles. How they memorize all that dialogue is mind blowing. It doesn’t hurt that Selby really looks like Lincoln too. Wallace comes in as a last minute replacement as the earlier lead had health problems, so congratulations to him for learning his lines so quickly and saving the show.
This world premiere explores the two documented encounters between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln during a period of national crisis, 1861-1865. As Lincoln searches for a way to end slavery in the summers of 1863 and 1864, Douglass’s rhetoric and conviction challenges the president to envision a post-emancipation world. Together, the men imagine not only a unified nation but a society that brings truth to the Declaration of Independence assertion that “all men are created equal.”
This play is definitely good for historians, law students, students in general, people working in politics, and Toastmasters. Interestingly enough, I ran into several White House military social aides at the show opening night. The history of this show is remarkable. I didn’t know anything about Frederick Douglass meeting with Abraham Lincoln on several occasions. Lincoln saw Douglass as an important ally to help him win the Civil War. These men have a common goal for freedom for all men. Lincoln respects Douglass’ fearlessness in confronting Lincoln on his views. Douglass’ respects Lincoln for ironically his honesty and straight forwardness. They battle it out on several occasions and come away respecting each other even more.
Several things I learned was that Douglass’ freedom was granted because of his wife’s help. He was a slave in Maryland. Lincoln tried to commission Douglass as a military officer to help recruit more African Americans to help with the war effort. The Union Army needed 100,000 African American recruits. Douglass was upset that the African American troops got paid less than the white troops. Unfortunately the commission never came through and Douglass had quit his paper awaiting his commissioning. Douglass thought it was a conspiracy to get him to quit his paper, but that wasn’t the case. The War Department just didn’t come through with the paperwork. Lincoln also helped get Douglass’ son discharged from the military. Douglass was friends with abolitionist John Brown. Lincoln called Brown a madman, but Douglass didn’t see it that way. However Douglass didn’t want to die for the cause he wanted to live for the cause. Douglass did believe Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal was a bit insane. It’s interesting enough how the men almost came to blows in their second meeting, but Douglass eventually sees that Lincoln is on his side. The show received a standing ovation.
The set by James Kronzer is simple, yet refined. It goes from Douglass’ home in Rochester, NY to Lincoln’s office. The costumes by Helen Huang expertly reflect what Lincoln and Douglass wore which is shown in a picture of the two men on the cover of the program.
Recommended for ages 13 and up as it contains complex language and ideas.
This performance runs two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
WHEN: Playing until February 18
511 Tenth St, NW,
Washington, DC 20004
TICKETS: buy tickets here.
Post-Performance Discussions: February 7 and February 11
Following the 7:30 p.m. performance, Ford’s Theatre will offer facilitated discussions about the themes and issues raised by the play. Post-performance discussions begin immediately after the performance. Individuals who did not attend the show but wish to attend the discussion will be invited into the theatre after the audience from the performance departs.