Reflections on The Heavens Are Hung in Black and Obama’s Inauguration

Some reflections on doing the play and being in Washington during President Obama’s inauguration . . .

The stars seemed to line up. Getting to play Lincoln in a thoughtful and moving play by James Still about conscience and heartache and the issue of slavery was a privilege. This year has been a celebration of Lincoln’s birth, and also of the reopening of Ford’s Theatre, which had been closed for nearly two years for a long overdue redoing. The result is wonderful, and the new seats are comfortable. Rehearsals were held in a church that had been used as a hospital during the Civil War. The only problem was that Christmas music blared for two hours every day during our first four weeks of rehearsals. It made you concentrate, but drove our director to early lunches.

Washington is a great town, a stimulating and beautiful capital, where museums and sights are free and good food can be had without breaking the bank. (Though there is the joke “Whole Foods means Whole paychecks.”) Washington was never more wonderful than when Mr. Obama was sworn into office. So many people, and I never saw or met anyone who wasn’t grateful to be there — even if you couldn’t get to the Capitol to see the event close up. Many gave up and settled for a better seat in front of a television. There were no incidents. People were so polite and patient. You could feel the joy. It was hard not to feel that our country had come a long way, not that we were there by any means, but we were certainly on the way.

David Selby as Abraham Lincoln in The Heavens Are Hung In Black

David Selby in technical rehearsals for The Heavens Are Hung In Black. Photo by Mark Ramont.

Not long afterwards, we got word that the President and First Lady would be attending a special gala event to celebrate the reopening of Ford’s Theatre. In addition to getting to meet people I have long admired, I got to renew some old friendships. I got to shake the President’s hand and received a hug and kiss from the First Lady. They were most gracious. With their two lovely daughters, what a wonderful and beautiful family to occupy the White House.

When James Still wrote his play, he had no idea that Mr. Obama would be our President. When I was offered the role of Lincoln, I was hopeful for Mr. Obama’s election, having liked him early on. I suppose this went back to my childhood and my friendship with Charles Blue. Charles and I became friends when we ended up in the same homeroom when segregation ended in the schools of Morgantown, West Virginia. Through Charles, I learned a great deal about holding on to one’s dignity in trying times. I thought of Charles that beautiful sunny day in Washington while happily squeezed among the crowd of rejoicers. I know Charles was smiling through his tears. There were mountains of tears of joy when Mr. Obama took the oath of office.

By the way, the play with a terrific cast was very well received. It sold out. Those working at Ford’s Theatre, including a supporting board of directors, have great plans for the future.

President Obama has already had to make tough decisions about many problems, none of which have easy answers. While pondering the country’s problems on a late night walk in and around the White House, President Obama may run into Lincoln. We can imagine they would sit and chat for awhile. President Obama will find great empathy from Lincoln for the many challenges our country faces. After only a few minutes, Lincoln will be impressed with our President. After a few hours, Lincoln will have great admiration for him, and when the sun rises, Lincoln will truly believe that our government has indeed come a long way toward a government that he had envisioned, one that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. He will warmly and heartily embrace President Obama and his very American family.

Warm regards to you and your loved ones,

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