"This may come as a surprise to some of you, but Abraham Lincoln was just about the funniest man I have ever met."
Abraham Lincoln, cracking jokes during the Civil War? That's not something most people recall from their grade school history classes.
But on the evening of Thursday, October 30, American University President Neil Kerwin delivered that line when he narrated "A Cause for Laughter," a vignette by playwright Ken Ludwig. The story explores Honest Abe's use of humor as a coping mechanism, as told by Lincoln supporter Isaac Arnold—the first congressman to introduce a resolution to abolish slavery.
President Kerwin's narration was part of a performance of Our War, a ground-breaking work of theater commissioned by Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater to explore the impact of the Civil War and its reverberations today from different points of view.
The play is part of The National Civil War Project, a radical, multi-city, multi-year collaboration amongst four universities and five performing arts organizations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.
Performances by an ensemble of local actors bring together vignettes by 25 playwrights, including winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, Olivier Award, and Helen Hayes Award.President Kerwin is among a group of more than 30 notable leaders from the D.C. community to join the ensemble in Our War performances, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, WAMU 88.5's Diane Rehm, and American University School of Public Affairs executive-in-residence Anita McBride.
Arena Stage Artistic Director and AU alumna Molly Smith (CAS/MA 1976) said of Our War's inspiration, "Around the time of the development of The National Civil War Project, I became aware of Kwame Kwei-Armah and CenterStage's My America project, which asked 50 renowned playwrights the simple question, 'What is my America?' As one of our partners in The National Civil War Project, I discussed my desire to take their brilliant idea and apply it specifically to the American Civil War and his encouragement and excitement helped drive forward this premiere event and collaboration with such distinguished playwrights, Washingtonians, and artists. Together through Our War we explore the impact of a young country at war with itself."
Our War runs through Sunday, November 9, at Arena Stage. For more information, go to www.arenastage.org