Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Stirring Lincoln-Douglas Debates Brought to Life by Play House Trio
Cleveland Press October 24, 1963
Ex-radio writer Norman Corwin has fashioned a stage vehicle out of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The result is not a play in the strict sense but a semi-documentary drama.
To prevent this from being little more than a reenactment of the debates, the dramatist has brought in the character of Mrs. Douglas who serves as narrator as well as provideing an excuse for moments of dialog with the two main characters away from the platform.
With less skillful performers "The Rivalry" would, I suspect, become little more than a dull evening of deadly declamation.
George Vafiadis as Lincoln and Robert Snook as Douglas thankfully have remembered that they are actors, not mere orators, and have allowed their characterizations to grow and change.
Acting Carries the Day
There is the alteration from bravado to weariness, from good humor to the anger of political infighting. Corwin suggests all this in his careful rearrangement of lines from the debates, but it is acting skill that makes it manifest.
These are virtuoso performers in another sense as well. The speeches are longer than those normally required of an actor. So are the long waits of the nonspeaking actor while the other holds the stage.
Resemblance Is Strong
It's no small feat to deliver so much oratory and provide it with tempo and meaning. Nor is it easy to sit there in full view of an audience for any length of time without looking frozen to the spot.
Vafiadis bears a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln as he has been pictured at the time of the debates. He plays his role with a trace of humor, a feeling of will that at times must withstand tremendous strain.
Snook as Douglas is the picture of a man against the ropes, a man clinging to outworn arguments in the face of change, a politician willing to dip deeply into the mud when he finds himself losing, a broken figure and yet a man with a deep sense of patriotism even after his defeat.
Timeliness Is Noted
The drama defines sharply the political conflict that existed over the slavery issue. In view of today's segregation debates and battles the play is invested with a timeliness that gives it more point than it otherwise might have as a historical work.
What excitement that exists in this drama is in characterization. Though there are stirring moments, missing from the drama are the climaxes needed to carry it forward.
The occasional sparks are exciting, but the playgoer may wish for a fire or two along the way.