Arena Stage Premieres Tazewell Thompson's Mary T. & Lizzy K., About First Lady and Seamstress, March 29
By Kenneth Jones
Mary T. & Lizzy K., Tazewell Thompson's drama about two unique women of the Lincoln White House, officially opens March 29 in a world-premiere production directed by the author at Arena Stage's intimate Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle in Washington, DC.
The Arena commission "stitches together an insider's look at the unique friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her talented dressmaker, the successful freed slave Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Keckly." It began previews at the Kogod Cradle at the Mead Center for American Theater on March 15 for a run through April 28.
According Arena Stage, "As one woman's skilled hands work overtime, creating the most beautiful garments of her career, the other's reality continues to slip ever further from her grasp. Old wounds and new recriminations explode in this riveting drama about loss, love and the importance of promises, both kept and broken."
Mary T. & Lizzy K. stars DC-area actress and Helen Hayes Award winner Naomi Jacobson (Centerstage's The Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allen Poe) as Mary Todd Lincoln and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris (Urban Stage's ReEntry) as Elizabeth Keckly. They are joined by Thomas Adrian Simpson (last seen at Arena Stage as Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady) as Abraham Lincoln and Joy Jones (Studio Theatre's Invisible Man) as Ivy.
"For the time, the 19th century, Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly were individually uncommon women, but as a team, their relationship was unconventional and formidable," Thompson said in a statement. "They were independent, ambitious, outspoken and strong-willed women living during the most seminal period in American history. Possessed with their own sense of fashion, personal style and politics, they were intelligent, assertive and proactive. While these traits were understandable for Mary Todd Lincoln, given her privileged upbringing, for Elizabeth Keckly, they were absolutely extraordinary, considering her life as a slave until she was able to buy her freedom."
Mary T. & Lizzy K. is the first production of Arena Stage's American President's Project, an initiative investigating the lives and legacies of our nation's Presidents and their families.
Thompson was an artistic associate and resident director under Zelda Fichandler and then with Doug Wager, and is now as a guest artist with Molly Smith. He has directed almost two dozen productions at Arena Stage. He penned and directed Constant Star at Arena, where he also directed Caucasian Chalk Circle, M. Butterfly and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, among many other titles.
Mary T. & Lizzy K. is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award. Additional funding is provided by the National Endowments for the Arts.
The creative team for Mary T. & Lizzy K. includes set designer Donald Eastman, costume designer Merrily Murray Walsh, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, sound design & composition by Fabian Obispo, stage manager Scott Pomerico and production assistant Kristen Harris.
For more information, visit arenastage.org.
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