This weekend is the 10th annual Lincoln’s Festival on Route 66 in Bloomington. One of the main attractions will be Herbert Mitgang’s one-man play “Mr. Lincoln,” which will be performed by John O’Connor on Saturday, July 20, at 7 p.m.
“I thought, it has to require a heck of a lot of hutzpah, you know, hubris to portray someone who is so mythical in nature, and whose language has transcended the ages ... and how do I, a mere mortal, portray this person?” said O’Connor on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.
Mitgang worked at The New York Times and based everything in the script around primary sources. O’Connor said he still had to do additional research on Lincoln’s voice and mannerisms.
“He's kind of that neighbor, he's kind of that guy next door, who would help you frame a door or, you know, fix the window. So it's kind of paradoxical, but it's very Lincoln-y, that he would be somebody who would lead this country through its most tumultuous time and keep it together during that time, and yet be such a normal, such a plain ordinary man,” said O’Connor.
He emphasized the importance of reflecting on Lincoln’s flaws and failures. O’Connor said Lincoln’s flaws allow us to see him as a human being, who could change and learn, which is relevant to today’s partisan political climate.
“At the beginning, he didn't care much about slavery. He thought the slavery might still exist, as long as the union was preserved. And he did always oppose slavery, but he was, you know, he was union first. Then he realized, no, slavery has to go. And by the time he was assassinated, he believed that blacks should be able to vote, and he believes that blacks were equal in a lot of ways,” said O’Connor.
Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1863, which allowed individuals to be imprisoned or released without a trial. O’Connor said with discussions about who is and who is not an American today, the suspension of habeas corpus would result in public outcry. He said this is hopeful for our current political climate.
He also discussed the political history of Lincoln in Bloomington-Normal.
According to O’Connor, the play will cover moments in Lincoln’s career when he lived in Bloomington-Normal and his nomination, by Jesse Fell, to the Illinois Republican Party. The play will also detail his perceptions of the politics at the time, up to his assassination.
“People think of him as this great statesman. And he was all that plus, like I said, an ordinary man. Six-foot-four, 180 pounds, his suits never fit, they hung on him loosely and were wrinkled and creased. He walked funny. He talked with a twang, people thought he was a hillbilly. And so it's fun to try to bring that normal Lincoln to people and show him in his sad moments,” said O’Connor.
The play will be performed at the courtroom in the McLean County Museum of History at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 20. Tickets can be purchased online.
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