Mary Todd Lincoln, Interrupted…in “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln”

The stuff of good theatre involves the storytelling of real people, real life ordeals and struggles, complex situations, and ability to endure. And that’s what fine drama should be all about. Such is the case in “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln,” written and performed by Tom Dugan, and directed by Shelby Sykes. In a post show ‘talk-back’ at a recent performance, the question arose: ‘what made Mary tick,?” certainly a question many a psychiatrist pondered. Madness? Insanity? Manic Depression? After spending many a day in either the attic or cellar, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her state of mind remains to this day, a subject of much controversy. Dugan portrays quite a sentimental moment between her courtship with President Abraham Lincoln, when he approaches her and states, “I want to dance with you in the worst way.” Mary teases back: “you have fulfilled your request, dancing the worst way possible.” This choice of dialogue adds the much needed levity to a rather dark sequence of tragic events in Mary’s life, including the sudden assassin of her husband and devastating loss of her children. The trauma and loss she endured creates layer upon layer of character depth and dimension which Dugan’s solo show impeccably offers. Dugan uses creative license to reveal her character, both strengths and struggles. In a most creative surprise, Dugan actually took on the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, as the original actress had to bow out. This incident indeed proves the adage, “the show must go on!” He found a refreshing way to portray a difficult figure in history, one who is often unlikeable and hard to understand. Although many previous stage, page, and screen depictions of this infamous First Lady have been far harsher, in this production we get a glimpse of the ‘brains behind the president,’ as his closest, cherished advisor. She is given a fair shake, quite a breakthrough to achieve. As one theatergoer observed, “we got a glimpse of Mary Todd Lincoln on a good day!” The drab, muted colors of the set decor further add to the tone of the show and flavor of the story. Despite reaching her breaking point with little or no coping skills, Mary Todd Lincoln had a husband with unwavering loyalty. One most poignant, vivid scene in the show was the reenactment of that fateful night at Ford’s Theatre, a play within a play, as it were, where dark pools of blood stained Mary Lincoln’s clothes, as her husband, sitting beside her, is shot. She loses her heart of hearts, her soul mate, as well as her children, all the loves of her life. When she was young, she was afraid of ghosts, yet later in life, she wished to draw them near. Ghosts and spirits haunted the widow Lincoln throughout her life, and in this show we see her emotions get the best of her, with the consuming grief burning within.

Tom Dugan’s ‘backyard playhouse’ is the ideal venue to illustrate and elevate the history playing out onstage. At every twist and turn throughout the production, we learn a new aspect of Mary Todd Lincoln’s formative years that shaped her into the extraordinary woman she grew to be. How incredible that this one person show brought her story, her struggles, her ultimate survival, to life onstage. Her spirit will remain with us forever.

through May 1st

Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm


About Bonnie Priever Curtain Up!

I am a theatre reviewer extraordinairre. I attend and cover theatres ranging from large to small venues, and every subject from musical theatre to dramatic presentations. Also please check out my reviews at and my email is
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