By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
The stage goes black and when the lights re-illuminate it, the audience sees Mary Todd Lincoln, alone. She bustles into a room in her sister’s house in Springfield, Ill., after her discharge from a nearby asylum. She is all a whirlwind until she collapses under the weight of her entire life.
Gay Storm has been portraying the former “Mrs. President,” as she liked to be known, in the one-woman play she wrote herself, “Presenting Mrs. Lincoln.” This Monday, Feb. 11, in observance of Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, the Patience Wright Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) will sponsor performances of Storm’s play at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Laguna Presbyterian Church, 415 Forest Ave.
Storm, of Huntington Beach, is a D.A.R. member in her native Los Angeles with the Eschscholtzia chapter. She says membership allows her to soldier for her country, by way of preserving history, supporting and disseminating education, and channeling patriotism, D.A.R. tenets.
Though the organization has existed in Laguna since 1939 as the Patience Wright Chapter, with community events such as the Lincoln play, the once-waning chapter shows new vitality.
“We have a progressive board of directors putting a fresh face on an old organization,” says Stephanie Cox, the chapter’s second vice regent.
“It’s important to remember the history of our country,” goes on Pat Carpenter, a registrar for the organization. “When you know where you’ve been, you have a better idea of where you’re going.”
The chapter maintains its legacy with works such as awarding a high school scholarship every year, supporting a group of veterans and providing casseroles for wounded soldiers in an alliance with Furnishing Hope, Carpenter and Cox said.
“There used to be a thing called ‘citizenship,’ that you would get a grade for in school,” explains Storm. “It was when you would help make the country the best place it can be. That’s what the D.A.R. is about.”
The organization never confuses its patriotism with politics, as some might presume, Storm says.
Her play, too, eschews politics as it concentrates on how tragic events shaped Mrs. Lincoln’s life.
Storm composed the play by piecing together biographical information about Mrs. Lincoln. She blends salacious details with hard biographical facts to find a character who tries herself in a court of law of her own mind.
On stage, Mary Lincoln’s dialogue reveals a swirl of creeping paranoia and memory recall that haunts her. She relates her own demons, as Storm would have it. The performance becomes aggressively intimate with the audience. The audience may come away judging her to be either truly crazy, as some historians make her out to be, or the victim of terrible circumstance. After all, she is the president’s wife who outlived three of her four sons and watched her husband murdered as she held his hand.
“It’s sort of an American tradition to give someone a second chance,” Storm says of her portrayal of Mrs. Lincoln.
Storm wrote the play two years ago, well ahead of the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln.” Storm says that while Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Lincoln was terrific, she questioned one plot device, her dispute with radical Congressman Thaddeus Stevens.
“It’s as if Mary Todd Lincoln is really talking to you,” Carpenter says of the play, which she saw last April.
Tickets for the play and complimentary Victorian tea are $15; $10 for seniors, teachers, church members, groups of 10 or more and DAR members. Reservations required: 949-497-8915 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The D.A.R.’s next event is a presentation on bees and the environment at the Presbyterian church on March 12. It is in association with the State Regents Project.