Sunday, September 13, 2020


 ‘Emancipation is not abolition’. Slavery must be eliminated from every foot of American soil! Finish what you started. What you started. (Frederick Douglass)

Until I watched the excellent production of North Coast Repertory Theatre’s west coast premiere “Necessary Sacrifices” by Richard Hellesen directed by Peter Ellenstein, the two ideas didn’t seem that far apart. 

When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he declared “that all persons held as slaves” in the Confederate State (if the states did not return to the Union by January 1st 1863 and if the Union won the war) “are, and henceforward shall be free, most assumed free meant ‘free’. What was left unspoken between the lines is what we have today. 

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.” (Abraham Lincoln)

In case you have been hiding under a rock these last four years, The Civil War, to this day, is still being fought and we are indeed, contrary to Lincoln’s speech deeply entrenched in a divided house.

In an absorbing, close to flawless production we, the home audience (more on that later) are treated to conversations, according to history, that Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’ had in two meetings banter on the idea of the Negro soldier in the Civil War that could/ might have changed the course of history. 

To some degree it did, but in the long run, the idea of emancipation rather than abolition and all the ramifications that come with, are being played out in neighborhoods across this country, from north to south, east to west. In an age old debate that still ravages this country, African American are still not completely free. 

Hellesen’s play commissioned by Ford Theatre made its world premiere in 2017, takes us back to the summer of 1863/1864 in Abraham Lincoln’s office where the debate for equality for the ‘Negro soldier’ is on Douglass’s mind if he is to help Lincoln recruit ‘Negro’s to fight in his war. 

In a give and take that’s as real today as it was in 1863/4 both actors flex their acting skills as the back and forth takes them to places no one expected. Lincoln and Douglass offer differing takes on the same subject of slavery, the right to vote the war and politics and Lincoln’s reelection each one coming from a different point of view yet expect the same results. You know what that is a definition of?

The two skilled actors, tall, lanky and relaxed, personable and down to earth Ray Chambers as Abraham Lincoln gives the impression that he has all the time in the world to hear Douglass and his ideas out. Coaxing even prompting him to justify himself. There are also bittersweet and intimate conversations about their children and wives.  

Hawthorne James’ Douglass, solid looking, formal and eager to get a commitment from Lincoln is no holds barred with his wants from the president. Both hold fast offering their reasons; Lincoln sticking to the makeup and Constitution the idea of states rights and wanting to end and win the war and Douglass returning to reality of the necessary sacrifices of his men if things remain the same. Even pushing the envelope he expects the government (Lincoln) to grant the Negro the same rights as the white (man) and that included voting rights. 

Hawthorne is said to have done this show in concert style a few years ago. Both actors looked and gave the impression that they were more than comfortable in their respective roles. 

Voting for the Negro doesn’t happen until Feb. 26, 1869 when the 15 amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Women didn’t get the right to vote until Aug. 18 1920 (technically) when the 19th amendment passed, but it was some time before all states signed on. 

In an age of what some are calling this the new normal, everything is new and nothing is normal. Since the shuttering of theatres around the world, (as most indoor venues) theatre junkies (OK I’ll just speak for myself) have gone M.I.A. It’s almost like losing your best friend; no one to hang out most nights and especially on weekends. 

Streaming and Zoom chat rooms are popping up all over the place and watching interviews (North Coast Rep) with Artistic director David Ellenstein with actors you are used to seeing on stage are now becoming your best friends.

That being said, this particular production of “Necessary Sacrifices” comes as close to being in the intimate space of the theatre he as one can get without actually having you tush in a theatre seat. According to the theatre the actors rehearsed separately and when sets, costumes lighting were ready and the actors were in final rehearsal Aaron Rumley  filmed and edited following all the SAG guidelines. What we see is the filmed version that will be available for your viewing through Oct. 11th. 
Cost of tickets run between $24.00 and $40.00 at

The play together with accurate period costumes by Elsa Benzoni, Peter Herman’s wigs, Marty Burnett’s take of Lincoln’s casual White House office, Michael Silversher’s music and last but by no means least, Aaron Rumley’s editing and choreography. 

Coming up next “Same Time Next Year” by Bernard Slade. It will be running Oct. 21 to Nov. 15, 2020.


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