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IF YOU DIVIDE your free time between researching the life of Betsy Ross and planning DAR functions, you might like The Rivalry. And then again, you might not. The play reminds you of those self-consciously patriotic shows that toured public schools during the Bicentennial. Most of them were vastly forgettable, and The Rivalry is no exception.
For the most part, the play is a reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Remember them? They were about secession...and slavery...and union...and--you know--all those Civil War topics. From the tri-colored jumble that dominates the stage to periodic bursts of off-pitch folk singing, The Rivalry shrieks Americana. It is not a pleasant sound.
The fundatmental weakness of the production is the script itself--it lacks plot. We get no sense of personal conflict between the two men, but rather a brief overview of their political disagreements--a topic better left th the classroom.
The script consists of transcriptions of the debates haphazardly strung together with scraps of purposeless personal interchange. It is hard to take seriously a play with straight lines like "Stephen Douglas, get your feet off that table!"
However, for a play as poorly put together as The Rivalry, much of the acting is surprisingly good. John Hallowell '58 brings a home-grown intensity to the role of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's speeches are, without a doubt, some of the finer moments in the show.
Tom Pate as Stephen Douglas also fares relatively well. As the "Little Giant" he is vigorous in his defense of Union and his flinty pragmatism contrasts nicely with Lincoln's lack of sophistication.
The role of Douglas's wife Adele is probably the most difficult in the show. While Mrs. Douglas narrates the play from the perspective of old age, she also appears as a young wife. Unfortunately, actress Kathryn Kirkwood goes overboard in an attempt to distinguish between the two roles.
IF THE AUTHOR of The Rivalry had tried to depict the personal relationship of Lincoln and Douglas in his dialogue, the play might have more interest. Unfortunately, the dialogue fails to explore the characters of the two men, relying on texts of the debates to do so. As a result, The Rivalry remains nothing more than a tired rehash of textbook history. Abe Lincoln deserves better, and so do you.
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