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'Human' Lincoln hits the stage

To Americans, “Abraham Lincoln” is not just one person.

Rather, that name represents a number of characters we’ve adopted into our collective mythology. There’s the fabled Honest Abe, the valiant leader eulogized in Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain,” or the log-cabin Lincoln who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected presidents in American history and a symbol of the American Dream itself. by: COURTESY PHOTO - Actor Steve Holgate will perform as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, in a play at HART Theatre in Hillsboro July 5 and 6.

In fact, the many faces of our sixteenth president — and our idolization of him — are familiar enough that they were recently parodied in the downright ridiculous “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

But in his two-act, one-man play at HART Theatre this weekend, actor Steve Holgate hopes to embody a side of the heroic figure that’s often missing from these incarnations: Lincoln as a human being.

“The ideas we have of Lincoln in popular imagination I think are pretty accurate, as they go: a man of great integrity, a very soulful man who suffered a great deal, a man with a great sense of humor. But he was even more complex than that, and I try to bring some of that complexity out,” explains Holgate, who wrote the 90-minute play himself. “It’s [taking] what I saw in these qualities, what I believed was there, and making them into a play where you see a real human being instead of a monument.”

A civil war buff since childhood, Holgate has been portraying Abraham Lincoln onstage, in classrooms, and in other public venues for over 13 years. The play, “A. Lincoln,” shows the former president’s evolution on matters of race and as a leader, honestly portraying not only Lincoln’s greatness, but also some of his earlier, more “uncomfortable” views.

“Early on, he says some things that, given our image of Lincoln, we wish he hadn’t said,” admits Holgate. “During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he says, ‘I’ve never claimed that the black man is our social or intellectual equal.’ Halfway through the war, he still thought that African-Americans would want to be [sent] back to Africa, and so he was advocating that — and that doesn’t make us very comfortable. But he learned and he grew, and he realized when he had made mistakes.”

Holgate breathes life into Lincoln’s character in various ways, such as reading or writing letters, interacting with imagined characters onstage, giving speeches, and telling jokes. But Holgate says that despite Lincoln’s notorious sense of humor, he doesn’t represent Lincoln as a “folksy” character.

“It’s not a lighthearted thing — he was a very serious guy. He was often depressed. His humor, I think, he used sometimes as a defense mechanism to keep from showing his true feelings,” Holgate notes. “He would read jokes and make himself laugh, but there was a lot of suffering going on there. At one point, he says something like, ‘If I didn’t tell these stories I would die.’”

Fortunately, Lincoln’s story continues to be told; Steve Holgate enables our great American icon to take on life as a living, breathing human being.

“The Lincoln we know is pretty accurate — it’s just that there’s more to him,” says Holgate. “And there’s a great immediacy to theater. I’m standing just a few feet from these people. Americans want an experience with Abraham Lincoln, so my job is to not get in the way of that.”




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