The Indiana Repertory Theatre opened their season last weekend with James Still’s The Heavens Are Hung in Black, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The play runs through October 25 on the theatre’s main stage. Tickets are $25.00 to $49.00; $19.oo students and Indianapolis kids under the age of 18. This spirited historical tale is suitable for all ages and is a must see in Indianapolis performing arts!
James Still wrote The Heavens Are Hung in Black for the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s birthday last February, and Ford’s Theater in Washington DC commissioned the script as a tandem celebration of their reopening. The gravity of this event was not lost on Mr. Still, as his text rises boldly to the occasion, giving the modern United States a President Lincoln for our own time. Still joins cannons of writers who found our 16th president an inspiring muse. He invokes the spirits of historical figures who haunted the Lincoln showing him as an imperfect man.
The Heavens are Hung in Black paints a picture of Honest Abe in the days leading up to the penning of the Emancipation Proclamation. With a union divided, a war front with only bad news, and a cabinet with as many opinions as there were soldiers fighting, Still’s Lincoln steps away from romanticization. This Lincoln is beaten down by the war, tortured by the premature death of his son, and haunted by spirits from his dreams as he faces unending insomnia. In short, Still’s Lincoln is a man at the end of his rope. A man any blue collar worker can relate to.
James Still’s Civil War era world is peopled with an ensemble of historical players. The script is as layered and complex as Lincoln himself. With a touch of the mystical, a parade of American heroes real or imagined is brought to life, skillfully by director Peter Amster. The Heavens Are Hung in Black at the Indiana Repertory Theater is one of those rare pieces of theatre magic when the right director collides with the right playwright on the right script. This is largely in thanks to Amster’s long standing relationship with the Indiana Repertory Theater and his work on other Still originals such as The Gentleman from Indiana. Amster is able to cut directly to the meat of Still’s Lincoln and deftly takes hold of the journey he leads the audience through.
Nicholas Horman steps up to the plate as Lincoln. Through a delicate balance of leadership and forlornness, and without ever asking for your pity, Horman plays the part of a man who evokes unbelievable sadness. He is tortured, but not a martyr. He is noble, but still afraid. He is a bundle of contradictions, without ever being a hypocrite. Mary Beth Fisher dons the mask of Mary Todd Lincoln, a confused and crazed mother driven mad over the death of her son and the absence of her husband in their marriage. Fisher gives a haunting performance as the first lady of the Civil War.
The cast is rounded out by a variety of Indianapolis artists. Diane Kondrat, as the mother of a condemned soldier, makes a heart wrenching appeal for her son’s life. Nick Abeel, a young graduate of the University of Evansville, draws a sad comparison between the life of our soldiers today and the soldiers of the Civil War. An IRT favorite David Alan Anderson, as the only black face in the ensemble, seems to carry the weight of this difficult content on his shoulders though his silent attentiveness as a servant and grave portrayals of both Uncle Tom and Dred Scott.
Adding to the rich fabric of this performance was a brilliantly conceived and executed scenic design by Russell Methany. A historically accurate president’s office gives way to cracking floor boards. The changing lines of the stage allow freedom to imagine numerous locations. Yet, the beauty of the moving set pieces comes largely through the actors scrambling from one to the next without falling. It is a suspenseful ballet, a metaphor for a divided America.
The Heavens Are Hung in Black is an American ghost story just in time for the Halloween season. It is suspenseful, chilling, honest, and thought-provoking in a way that holds your attention for an entire two and a half hours. Still’s position as the playwright-in-residence at the Indiana Repertory Theatre quite frequently colors the language of the play, making it distinctly Hoosier at times.
Catch The Heavens Are Hung in Black all month in Indianapolis downtown at the Indiana Repertory Theater. Make an evening of it in the Circle City by exploring the limitless Indianapolis restaurants and Indianapolis bars in downtown Indy. The Indiana Repertory Theatre is a cornerstone of Indianapolis arts. As the largest theatre in Indiana, the Indiana Repertory Theatre has established a reputation for excellence, which The Heavens Are Hung in Black most certainly lives up to.
The Heavens Are Hung in Black
Indiana Repertory Theatre
140 West Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
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