Civil War History Programs with the Resident Associates Program
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Play Review - Reunion - A Musical Epic in Miniature - a play by Jack Kyrieleison and Ron Holgate, presented at Ford's Theatre

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 3, Number 1

A play about the Civil War? We already know who the main characters are, and we already know who won. Still, this play has surprises. Reunion isn't a play about North versus South, but about North versus North. It highlights the Northern Civil War experience and the issues which almost kept the North from winning the war at all.

First, we saw the play at Ford's Theatre, so already we are attuned to the events that occurred there. Maybe that's why the wooden stage set reminded us of a hangman's scaffold. But we forgot about that as soon as the music began. The play is very fast-paced and combines wonderful period music and quotes from the prominent figures of the day, used to illustrate the contrasting views and issues facing the North during this time.

The writers perfectly capture those issues starting with union and slavery. For instance, at the beginning, the white characters' songs are bright and patriotic while the African American characters let us know that THEY know that the real issue is freedom. The writers also contrast the John Hay-combination character with McClellan to demonstrate their difference of opinion on the abilities of Abraham Lincoln to lead the country.

The audience was filled with people of all ages and many family groups. The play was thoroughly enjoyed by all, Civil War buffs and novices alike. Overall, this was a wonderful introduction to Civil War music, thought, and politics.

After the play, we were treated to a special question-and-answer session with the writer, Jack Kyrieleison and cast members. Joining them was Michael Maione of the National Park Service, who is head ranger at Ford's Theatre and a national expert on "Mr. Lincoln."

From the questions we learned that Jack chose the title, Reunion, because that was Lincoln's primary focus throughout the war. We also learned that this is his first play, that he spent three years researching, never imagining it would be performed at Ford's Theatre. Actor James Judy played the Booth character. He shared that although he does not believe in ghosts, when he as Booth jumps from the Lincoln box and escapes off-stage, he feels he is being watched. He also feels a cold wind coming from the exact place where Ferguson, a stagehand on the day of the assassination, stood and watched Booth escape. From Michael Maione we learned why he believes that the preservation of Ford's Theatre is a perfect tribute to Mr. Lincoln; why he always calls Mr. Lincoln "Mr. Lincoln;" and, that "Ford's Theatre is not haunted!"

While we believe most of that, James Judy's story gave us the shivers.

To learn more about Ford's Theatre, visit the National Park Service web site at