‘Abe’s in a Bad Way’ @ Free Street Theatre

The cast of “Abe’s in a Bad Way.”

Abraham Lincoln was a pioneer. As the 16th President of the U.S., he formed the national banking system, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and was the first president to be assassinated. (Ok — so this last one doesn’t really fit in this context, but you get what I’m trying to say.) He also suffered from deep depression, which resulted in him having fondness for melancholy poems and literature.

And the Free Street Theatre (FST) is a pioneer of its own right. Currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, FST has served as a “cultural arts laboratory” since 1969. From program notes: “Free Street Theatre has developed creativity as a force for social change. For the past two decades, Free Street has worked with youth, simultaneously developing new works of art and new artists.”

In Abe’s in a Bad Way, a group of 12 young performers, with mentorship from FST staff including director Anita Evans, has developed an experimental piece that reflects on the final hours of Lincoln’s life following his assassination. Structured around the five stages of grief (shock, anger, bargaining, loneliness and acceptance), they’ve assembled a series of vignettes blending together weeks of research on Lincoln and his life. Whenever possible, they’ve woven together Lincoln’s actual words and thoughts, demonstrating how Lincoln struggled with depression and failure while making some of the most revolutionary decisions for our country. Music and rhythm are added to the mix, featuring the Long String Instrument, which produces a beautifully resonant and haunting sound — perfect accompaniment for this piece.

The maturity of this group is simply remarkable. They treat the material with respect, commitment and sophistication that I know I never had at that age. They are clearly proud of the work they’ve created, and rightly so: it’s unique storytelling that both educates and enlightens.

I would say go see it, but I caught the final performance this Saturday. Next up for FST: They are taking their act to Thailand. Six teens who have been studying at Free Street for over two years and Free Street staff will be going on a cultural exchange supported by the MacArthur Foundation to share pedagogy and create a performance with Makhampom Theatre in Chiang Dao, Thailand.

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