Ford’s Theatre’s 2014-15 schedule comes under the microscope in the 8th installment of our previews of forthcoming theater in the D.C. region, and the image coming into focus most vividly is of the historical figure most closely associated with the world-famous playhouse on 10th St. NW: Abraham Lincoln. Two of the four offerings in the Ford’s season will focus on the life and legacy of the 16th president of the United States: one a world-premiere play, the other a concert style musical. (Our look at Ford’s follows similar explorations of upcoming work by Shakespeare Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, Synetic Theater and Signature Theatre.)
Company trademark: Plays and musicals showcasing American history; family- and tourist-friendly fare.
— “Driving Miss Daisy,” by Alfred Uhry, directed by Jennifer L. Nelson (Sept. 26-Oct. 26)
— “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Michael Wilson, directed by Michael Baron (Nov. 20-Jan. 1, 2015)
— “The Widow Lincoln,” by James Still, directed by Stephen Rayne (Jan. 23-Feb 22, 2015)
— “Freedom’s Song,” by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, directed by Jeff Calhoun (March 13-May 16, 2015)
Highlights: Two accomplished and well-known Washington actors, Nancy Robinette and Craig Wallace, will square off in Uhry’s Pulitzer-winning, three-person play, about a persnickety Southern Jewish woman and the stubbornly proud African American man her son hires to chauffeur her. They’ll be directed by Nelson, onetime artistic director of D.C.’s African Continuum Theatre. After the perennial seasonal serving of Dickens–with Edward Gero reprising his portrayal of Scrooge–Ford’s devotes most of its winter and spring to Lincoln. The events will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s murder at Ford’s as part of a larger programming effort called “Ford’s 150: Remembering the Lincoln Assassination.” First up will be a world-premiere play by James Still, “The Widow Lincoln,” depicting Mary Todd Lincoln in the aftermath of the assassination. It will be Still’s second Lincoln play at Ford’s, the previous one being 2009’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black.” Then, director Jeff Calhoun (“Violet”) stages “Freedom’s Song,” a concert-style evening combining Lincoln’s own words and the songs of Frank Wildhorn (“The Civil War”), inspired by the experiences of Lincoln’s contemporaries.
Analysis: With the presentation of Arena Stage’s “Our War,” a collection of short monologues about the Civil War, and the Lincoln plays at Ford’s, Washington’s ’14-’15 season is guaranteed to be packed with history. (Arena also has Liz Lerman’s new Civil War dance-theater piece, “Healing Wars,” coming this June; Mary Todd was also the subject of a play last year at Arena, “Mary T. & Lizzy K.” ) As the Best Picture Oscar for “Twelve Years a Slave” reaffirms, the period in American history encompassing slavery and the Civil War remains rife with dramatic possibility. Still, time and box office receipts will tell if an audience exists for all this historical inquiry on D.C. stages. All four of the season’s offerings, meanwhile will be guided by directors familiar to Ford’s audiences. Nelson, the company’s artistic and “Legacy Project” adviser, most recently directed the theater’s productions of “Black Pearl Sings!” with Tonya Pinkins and “Necessary Sacrifices” by Richard Hellesen. Her shepherding of the revival of Uhry’s comedy-drama augurs a surfeit of warmth for the start of the Ford’s season.