Although the phrase "Uncle Tom" has a negative connotation today as a submissive black man, at the time the book was published Uncle Tom was seen as "a noble hero and praiseworthy person." That is the version of Uncle Tom we see in this play, as he encourages Lincoln to sign the Proclamation, despite his doubts about what it will achieve. It feels like a real conversation between two equals who understand and respect each other. The two men are interrupted by Lincoln's grieving wife and her seamstress/confidante Elizabeth, showing Lincoln's human side as he continues to grieve his son and try to comfort his wife in her grief.
|President Lincoln and Uncle Tom share a toast
(Steve Hendrickson and James A. Williams)
The look of the president's White House office is efficiently achieved with just a few set pieces. Three large white frame windows hang in mid-air to represent one wall, with grand white doors opposite them. Just a desk, sofa, and two chairs adorn the space along with a few rugs (set design by Joseph Stanley).
This brief look into the life of Lincoln, a president we know so well, and Uncle Tom, a fictional character we think we know so well, offers a fresh perspective and an opportunity to explore some important issues in a new way. I've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin but I'm now intrigued, and might have to pick it up sometime. In the meantime, you can visit Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House in the Guthrie's Dowling Studio from now through April 6.