Hershey Felder is currently at the Pasadena Playhouse finish the final of three one act performances on the lives of three different men, Chopin, Bernstein, and now “Lincoln An American Story” through April 7. Hershey through acting and music teaches the history of an ordinary man at an extraordinary time, Dr. Charles Augustus Leale. The Civil War was the bloodiest battle of American History, with more American’s lost than in any other war. Felder has created a story of one man who was there when cities were burned, and peace was finally declared. Through the music of the time, fantastic special effects, and compositions of his own creation, Felder gives the audience a history lesson, a tribute to one of the greatest Presidents, and a message of patriotism and peace.
Felder begins the play sitting in a plush red chair, a bayonet and Yankee cap by his side. He gives a monologue that is a tribute to the power of theater and lets the audience know they are now sitting in the Ford Theater where in 1865 as the old elementary school expression goes “poor Abe Lincoln died.” It is this location that starts and ends the play. In between these bookends, the audience is taken to New York, a war hospital in DC, the battlefield, and back.
The Pasadena Playhouse is as old as the Ford where Lincoln died, and this play though clearly demonstrates how these old spaces can be given new life. For those reading who are true theater fans, it used to be that set changes consisted of backdrops and furniture pieces, but in this case all the set changes were digitally made. In the blink of an eye the audience is transported to New York burning, Greek Columns that grow infested with vines, and a fire breaks out stage right, all crafted electronically. The beauty of old architecture blended with the inexpensive creativity of the new technology.
On stage for this one man show Felder is not alone, for behind an opaque curtain is a full orchestra performing music with him. At times the curtain is pulled up and the actions of the conductor and musicians become a part of the energy on stage. The audience learns not only the life of the good Doctor, but how his life crossed with the infamous John Wilkes Booth three times, and how he had the opportunity to meet one of the greatest American poets of all time, Walt Whitman. Finally the good Doctor witnesses the shooting of Lincoln and goes to his aide. Felder walks through the last hour of the man who freed the slaves and reminds everyone of his greatest moments and greatest words. The play ends with a message of Peace for the world and in true Felder form, a sing-a-long to patriotism. This play of history is itself a work of history, and a blending of old with new, and a tribute to lives lost in 1865 and perhaps a message for today of tolerance and hope for tomorrow.