“A Civil War Christmas” is a very touching production that possesses a sweet holiday innocence. Set in 1864 on Christmas Eve, it tells the engaging stories of President Abraham Lincoln, a slave named Hannah and her daughter Jessa, and Decatur Bronson, a Black soldier fighting against the Confederate army. These characters have very different stories that will have you engrossed.
Lincoln has freed the slaves, and men and boys are dying as the Confederates battle Lincoln’s men. In both camps, the soldiers are tired and trying to sing songs to lift their spirits. The Confederates know that they have lost but continue to battle. Playwright Paula Vogel also introduces the audience to what might have been going on between Lincoln and his wife, Mary, as they try to decide what to give each other for Christmas. At the same time, the audience meets Elizabeth Keckley, a Black woman who was a seamstress to Mrs. Lincoln and many others. She was someone who cared a great deal about the Blacks in Washington, D.C., and helped underprivileged children.
Hannah and Jessa escaped slavery and are journeying on foot to Washington, D.C. When they get near Washington, they are separated and plan to meet at the White House, but things don’t go as smoothly as they plan. Jessa gets lost, which causes the Black community in Washington to bond together and search for this little girl.
Bronson, whose wife has been taken by the Confederate soldiers, has developed such a strong hatred for Confederates that his policy is to take no prisoners. Bronson has a good reason to feel this way, but then something happens that makes him question how far his hatred should take him.
This production is very engaging to watch, and each story has a clear life of its own. At times, the cast bursts into songs, including Christmas-themed songs that are very telling and well done. I experienced nothing less than pure enjoyment watching this production. There are moments of unique creativity in the way that the scenes and characters are presented. Non-traditional casting is taken to a new level and a majority of the cast are African-Americans, which was unusual to see but very welcome.
Everyone in the cast delivers a delightful performance. When the production is over, you feel a warmth in your heart and a renewed wish for peace and goodwill towards men. The cast features a company in which everyone plays multiple roles and includes K. Todd Freeman; Chris Henry; Rachel Spencer Hewitt; Antwayn Hopper; Amber Iman; Jonathan David, Karen Kandel, Sean Allan Krill; Alice Ripley; Bob Stillman; and Sumaya Bouhbal.
The production also features marvelous direction by Tina Landau. She has a very entertaining way of weaving these characters and their stories together. I also think it is wonderful how the actors are not only playing the characters, but also serve as narrators throughout the play. There’s never a point when you feel confused, although you are watching three different stories.
The play is running at the New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th Street, with performances on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. “A Civil War Christmas” runs through Dec. 30. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ticketcentral.com.