Live theaters are still closed, so Tom Dugan made one in his Woodland Hills backyard

Tom Dugan as Mary Lincoln in his play, "The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln," performed in his backyard in Woodland Hills.

Tom Dugan as Mary Lincoln in his play “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln,” carried out in his yard in Woodland Hills. (Becky Petersen)

I’d checked the handle over and over, so I knew I used to be in the proper place: Dugan’s Yard Playhouse. It didn’t appear to be a theater, however I hadn’t anticipated it to. I knew Tom Dugan was doing his one-person present “The Ghosts of Mary Lincoln” on a makeshift out of doors stage at his home, on this quiet Woodland Hills cul-de-sac. I had RSVP’d. It might be not be creepy of me to skulk throughout his garden and slip via the open again gate at dusk.

Even so, I felt transgressive. After staying house for greater than a 12 months, I had the sense that I used to be sneaking right into a speakeasy or infiltrating a séance.

The speakeasy aura dissolved as quickly as I took my seat, a patio chair alongside a turquoise swimming pool, separated from about 15 different viewers members — all of us masked. I had a transparent view of the candlelighted efficiency area (by Chris and Becky Petersen) representing the cluttered attic the place Abraham Lincoln’s aged widow spent her last years. I used to be supplied complimentary bottled water and snacks, in addition to a blanket to guard me from the night time air.

The séance feeling, in distinction, intensified over the following 80 minutes as Dugan channeled Mary Lincoln’s peppery, splenetic, tenderhearted spirit and shared ghostly tales from her uncanny, death-haunted tenure on this planet from 1818 to 1882.

Simply earlier than the beginning, director Shelby Sykes defined that she and Dugan got down to develop this play — which he started writing in 2013 — with an actress within the position. Dugan finally took over, a casting change that might demand, Sykes defined, suspension of disbelief. Not solely as a result of Dugan is a person, but additionally as a result of he’s tall: Mary was solely 5-foot-2 in contrast with 6-foot-Four Abe.

Certain sufficient, at first look Dugan — slim, white-haired and chic in his fashionable pajamas and gown — didn’t give off “little previous girl in 1882” vibes. Nor did he communicate in a high-pitched voice or have an effect on noticeably womanly gestures. But in some way, from the second he started to speak, any disbelief I may need been harboring obtained up and left, fully by itself, no suspension required.

I final noticed Dugan in 2015 in his one-man show “Wiesenthal” on the Wallis Annenberg Middle for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. There he made extra of an effort to decorate and communicate like his topic, Simon Wiesenthal, however, simply as on this position, he struck me extra as a medium than an impersonator. He has a knack for promoting the dramatic pretext for an impending monologue — on this case, we’re presupposed to be journalists at a press convention Mary has referred to as — and he manages to maintain the phantasm by intercutting stage enterprise with usually spellbinding anecdotes. Steve Shaw’s sound design imparts delicate ambiance.

As a personality, Mary Lincoln is fascinating however doesn’t include an particularly uplifting or aspirational arc. She endured unimaginable tragedies — her husband’s assassination, the early deaths of three of her 4 sons — however as a result of she reacted so inappropriately, in accordance with the values of the period (she might have had bipolar dysfunction), she died an impoverished outcast, estranged from her solely remaining son. However she might give pretty much as good as she obtained, or higher. And within the play’s strongest moments, Dugan endearingly conveys her enviable toughness and cantankerous wit.

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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