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Gayfest NYC Fifth Festival of Plays 2013: The Loves of Mr. Lincoln & Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
By: Joel Benjamin

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Steven Hauck as Abraham Lincoln and Stacy Todd Holt
as Joshua Speed in The Loves of Mr. Lincoln
(Photo credit: Carlos Gustavo Monroy)

David Brendon Hopes’ contribution to Gayfest NYC Fifth Festival of Plays 2013 was a richly moving study of the sixteenth president in The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. Not a modern pseudo-psychological reinterpretation, but a wonderfully detailed drama, Loves in no way tears this great man down from his pedestal. Rather, Lincoln’s complex historical hegemony is only enhanced by Mr. Hopes’ expert, period-perfect drama, based directly on personal letters and public documents dealing with his close relationship with Joshua Speed with whom Lincoln shared digs-and a bed-in Springfield. Lincoln comes across as a beautifully sensitive, moody, philosophical man whom only Joshua seems to understand. Certainly Mary cannot, and will not, attempt to understand the depth of his emotional commitment to Joshua.

Written in heightened, but not stilted language, Loves began with a shy, awkward lawyer gossiping about his intended, Mary Todd, with his best friend, shopkeeper Joshua. It is clear from their easygoing manner and intimate physicality that they are perfectly in tune with each other and are spiritual mates. Whether Lincoln and Speed actually indulged in sex is unimportant. They were physically and emotionally intimate and it was Speed who remained in Lincoln’s thoughts—at least according to this play—until his very last days after years of the querulous behavior of his wife, the loss of two sons and the demands of running a country at war took their toll. Abe found comfort in his relationship and correspondence with Speed whom Mary made attempts to alienate from the Lincoln White House, much to his disappointment and frustration.

Lincoln courts and marries the socialite Mary because that was the way things were back in the mid-19th century. Mary is portrayed as strong-willed and spoiled, marrying him more because his future looked bright than any silly romantic notion based on looks or attraction. In fact, she was also courted by Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s main political rival, but chose Lincoln.

Steven Hauck as Abe and Leah Curney as Mary Todd
in a scene from The Loves of Mr. Lincoln
(Photo credit: Carlos Gustavo Monroy)

Hopes delves into the casual attitude of that time towards close male bonding. Interestingly, General Ulysses Grant makes it quite clear that such “special friendships” were common amongst the soldiers fighting the Civil War.

Hopes tells the story chronologically taking Lincoln and Mary from their marriage to his assassination. Between scenes a singer performed Stephen Foster songs which both allowed for scene changes and helped set the mood. The sets and costumes were quite opulent for an Off Broadway production. Michael Hotopp’s scenic design included period furniture and vintage photos of Springfield and Washington, D.C., shown on a central screen. Carrie Robbins’ costumes aided by Paul Huntley’s hair and wig designs further brought the period to life, with the opulent dresses for Mary Lincoln particularly impressive, speaking volumes of her reputed excessive spending during this particularly dark period of American history.

The acting, under Sydney J. Burgoyne’s direction, was superb. Steven Hauck was a terrifically convincing Lincoln, his height and gauntness perfect for the part and his slightly languorous manner never quite concealing the turmoil in his mind. Stacey Todd Holt played Joshua Speed with a warmth and lack of self-consciousness that was admirable. As Mary Todd Lincoln, Leah Curney skillfully took this troubled and troublesome lady from the security of a familiar social life to the tribulations of war and the angst of an unhappy marriage without being totally unsympathetic. Tyrone Davis, Jr., as the Singer and Lincoln’s White House aide Tobias made it clear that there were independently minded Blacks at that time who weren’t afraid to say what was on their mind. Don Burroughs played both the truculent General George McClellan and the macho, but sympathetic General Grant with skill and attention to details of speech and body language.

Though a bit long, The Loves of Mr. Lincoln was totally involving. The intimacy of the small June Havoc Theatre helped communicate all the subtleties of the play.

The cast of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
(Photo credit: Catherine Bell)

Playing in the tiny adjacent space was the BASiC Theatre Project’s revival of Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Though well-meaning, and certainly lively, the young cast under the direction of a very permissive Zi Alikhan kept losing sight of the language, totally eschewing any semblance of English accents, bogging down in a free-for-all of mime, dance, acrobatics and, sadly, homophobic stereotyping, making mincing queens of some of Wilde’s boy toys and, literally, an ape of his main accuser, Queensbury.

The Loves of Mr. Lincoln & Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (May 31 - June 16, 2013)
Gayfest NYC Fifth Festival of Plays 2013
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex – the June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, in Manhattan
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or
Running time: Lincoln – 2 hours 15 minutes & Gross Indecency – 2 hours 30 minutes