I checked the address again and again, so I knew I was in the right place, Dugan’s Backyard Playhouse. It was not like a theater, but I did not expect it. I knew Tom Dugan was showing one of his “Mary Lincoln Ghosts” shows on the makeshift stage of his home in this quiet Woodland Hills cemetery. I had an RSVP’d. It would not be scary for me to tangle his meadow in the evening, “slide through the open gate”.
Even then, I felt aggressive. After more than a year at home, I felt like I was crawling screaming or penetrating a season.
The Speakeasy aura was resolved as soon as I took my seat, the lingerie chair by the turquoise pool, parted from about 15 other members of the audience, all of us in masks. I had a clear idea of the candlelight vault (Chris J. Becky Petersen) in the chaotic attic where Abraham Lincoln’s elderly widow spent her final years. I was offered free bottled water, snacks, and a blanket to protect me from the night air.
In contrast, the seasonal feeling intensified over the next 80 minutes as Duggan accompanied Mary Lincoln to the pepper, spleen, heartfelt spirit, and shared ghost tales from his strange, posthumous death on this planet from 1818-1882.
Immediately before the start, director Shelby Sykes explained that he և Dugan had started developing this play, which he started writing in 2013. Duggan eventually took office, a change that would require change, Sikes explained, a cessation of disbelief. Not only because Dugan is a man, but also because he is tall. Mary was only 5 feet -2 compared to the 6-foot-4 Abe.
It is enough to be convinced that at first glance, Dugan, with his thin, white hair, elegant in his modern pajamas and robe, did not give “the little old lady of 1882”. She did not speak loudly, did not affect the noticeable female gestures. Somehow, from the moment he began to speak, any unbelief I could experience rose completely on its own and went away without demanding suspension.
I last saw Dugan in 2015 in one of his solo performances, Wiesenthal, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. There he tried harder to dress, like his subject, Simon Wiesenthal, but as in this role, he struck me more as an environment than an imitator. He has the skill to sell the dramatic pretext for the impending monologue. In this case, we have to be a journalist at the press conference convened by Mary, she manages to keep the illusion, exchanging the stage business often with magic jokes. The sound design of Steve Shaw gives a subtle atmosphere.
As a character, Mary Lincoln is fascinating, but does not come with a particularly uplifting or inspiring bow. She endured incredible tragedies: the murder of her husband, the untimely death of three of her four sons, her only remaining son. But he could give as much as he received, or better. And in the strongest moments of the play, Dugan lovingly conveys his enviable strength and ironic wit.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.