Abraham Lincoln’s election as the 16th president of the United States was so contentious, it caused 11 Southern states to secede from the Union. On Christmas Eve, 1864, as the Civil War raged, President and Mary Todd Lincoln prepared for Christmas at the White House. This is the setting for the musical play “A Civil War Christmas,” and on Friday, December 28, the National Park Partners invites you to attend a special benefit performance at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel weaves fictional and historical characters together with American songs, marches and spirituals for this production. Vogel says that “theatre gives us the ability to talk with our ancestors,” and in this brutally honest depiction, we are privy to relationships among the soldiers and slaves, as well as the close bond between Mrs. Lincoln and her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.
Nicole Coleman plays Elizabeth Keckley and hopes through her character research to discover how it came to be that Keckley, who was born a slave, bought her own freedom. It is known that Mrs. Lincoln gave Keckley money to start the Contraband Relief Organization to help newly freed slaves, and she also took Elizabeth to Boston and other places to drum up support from black ministers, as the church was the foundation of black political society. Keckley also had a part-Caucasian son who passed for white, so he could enlist (men of color were usually barred from service). “Socially, to pass for white is like shaming your family,” Nicole noted. Keckley’s son was killed in battle and appears as a ghost in the play.
“Mary Todd Lincoln is one of history’s most misunderstood women. When a president’s wife was expected to be quiet, Mary was outspoken as a political strategist and proponent for emancipation. She was publicly ridiculed and in later years, her son committed her to an insane asylum,” Nicole said. From her book published in 1868, “Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House,” Keckley writes:
“It may be charged that I have written too freely on some questions, especially in regard to Mrs. Lincoln. I do not think so … Mrs. Lincoln, by her own acts, forced herself into notoriety. She stepped beyond the formal lines which hedge about a private life, and invited public criticism.”
Director, Todd Olsen is excited about staging “A Civil War Christmas” in a town with extant buildings and historians, and where people memorialize the battles that took place here. Olsen says that, “Vogel is smart to not get political, and although we meet Generals Lee, Grant, and Sherman, the war is the backdrop to the human stories.”
Your ticket purchase for the show on December 28 show includes food, drink and noshing with characters from the show, but most importantly, it supports the National Park Partners in its conservation of the natural, historic, and cultural resources of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, including Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.
For tickets, call the Theatre Centre Box Office (423) 267-8534 or go online at theatrecentre.com.