playRites - Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre - Review

February 18th, 2010 by Wil Knoll

Of all the shows at playRites, the reaction to this show was the most polarized. Some viewers were raving by the end of it, and some could not make it through the entire performance. Normally, that’s the sign that something smart and challenging or flawed and insulting is going on. Larry Tremblay’s Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre isn’t quite sure what, if any of those, it is.

It’s a play about confusion to a certain extent. Characters are left running over the same sequences again and again, layering more context each go round, trying to understand the meaning of a man, an image, or wax figure. It’s a performer’s show. There is a badge that each of the ensemble involved should be given for plowing through almost two hours straight barely leaving the stage and barely taking a break.

I enjoyed Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre. But it is confused, and it tries to explain itself to the audience too often, much like the characters are trying to explain themselves to the world.

I found that a majority of the people that enjoyed the show had spent some time performing themselves. There is something about the play within the play that lives in the warm parts of grade school memories for us. But that’s a bit of an insider’s thing, and the non-performers were left feeling cold, as if they had never been invited in. For a show that could be extremely meta, it puts up a solid wall between the performance and the observer.

What it does well is a discussion about our need as individuals to be remembered, and what it means to be remembered. Do we end up as a footnote, a police report, or a character? And does the ‘character’ represent the truth of an individual any better than the footnote? Does the simple act of saying the names of the long past mean they are remembered at all? Or is it just lip service to a story?

Sadly, the point that Larry Tremblay is making is unclear. And it takes a bit too long to try and talk it out amongst itself.

The set is minimally dressed, honest to being a stage and the nature of rehearsal. The sound design is functional, and the lights do take the time to differentiate between the warm glow of performance, and the harsh wash of fluorescents in the rehearsal hall.

The show is funny. In its best moments it is quite smart and witty. At its worst, it plods and talks in circles. Some people decided to walk out halfway in. Some people thought it was brilliant by the end. I would have trimmed fifteen minutes of it. I wondered if the point, which I could almost taste, was a little distilled in translation. But I did enjoy it, and I laughed heartily most of the way through.

Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre
By Larry Tremblay, translated by Chantal Bilodeau

Part of ATP’s playRites Festival
Runs through Saturday, 6 March 2022
Martha Cohen Theatre

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