Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House explores the unreal

James A. Williams and Steve Hendrickson, <i>Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House.</i>

James A. Williams and Steve Hendrickson, Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House.

Nearly a week after seeing Carlyle Brown's exploration of race, power, and "doing the right thing," I'm still not sure what I think of the show.

Brown offers up a though-provoking piece that gives a pair of very talented actors the chance to play iconic characters (one real, one imagined) and bounce plenty of ideas off each other. 

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[jump] As the title indicates, the president and the fictional hero of Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel meet late one night. It is, in fact, the night that Lincoln needs to decide whether or not to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and free the slaves in the Confederate states.

Lincoln is haunted by the years of the Civil War and afraid of the future bloodshed that may be caused, along with the political ramifications of such a bold, if morally correct, decision.

Not surprisingly, Tom sees it as a pretty easy decision to make and works to convince Lincoln. His own issues are more metaphysical in nature, as the ambulating fictional character pushes up against the limitations of Stowe's world.

Both are intriguing areas to explores, but I'm not sure how well they coexist in this particular story. Lincoln's plight feels more alive than Tom's. Perhaps it's because referring to someone as an "Uncle Tom" didn't gain cultural force until quite a few years after the events of the play.

What does work is the interplay between Steve Hendrickson as Lincoln and James A. Williams as Tom. Both actors are skilled at bringing complex characters to life, and aren't afraid to probe into their darker sides. For Hendrickson, this comes via Lincoln's interplay with his wife (Jodi Kellogg), whose growing madness he has to ignore to govern the country. While Tom finds a counterpoint in the very real Elizabeth Keckley (India Gurley), who shows us the complexity of being a former slave in a brave new America.


Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House
Through April 6
Guthrie Theater

818 S. Second St., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.