Siena Welcomes Lincoln Dress to World Premiere in Loudonville
There was a homecoming on multiple levels as Siena College presented the World Premiere of “The Lincoln Dress” this past weekend by Albany native and Siena alum John P. McEneny whose Brooklyn based Piper Theatre Productions was founded 19 years ago with his sister Rachel and the play is set in Albany. It was a festive welcome from the community which featured a fundraiser at Ten Broeck Mansion hosted by sister Maeve McEneny, organized and promoted by brother Daniel McEneny with three performances at Siena College over the weekend attended by over 300 family friends and the Capital Region theater community. The clan are the children of local historian and former Assemblyman Jack McEneny.
The play expands on a fascinating slice of Albany apocryphal lore as it tells of four potential thieves-a lock scratcher, loon, whore and colored woman (characterized by the script) who conspire to break into a house in Loudonville in 1931 and steal the dress worn by Clara Harris at Ford’s Theatre April, 14, 1865. Clara and her fiancé Henry Rathbone were last minute guests of the Lincolns in the Presidential box at Ford’s when John Wilkes Booth jumped in, shot and killed the president. Legend has it that comforting the president in his final minutes fell to the 20-year-old Albanian Harris and that the Great Emancipator bled from his head wounds all over the dress. The dress has wound up, bricked up in a closet in the Harris summer cottage in Loudonville and the conspiracy of thieves believe they can break in, tear down the wall and sell the dress to some “kook in Kinderhook” for thousands of dollars finally getting the chance to live swell “in a row house on Delaware.” The play had plenty of local references.
We are in the room of Donal (Aaron Novak), the lock picker, who is recruited by the mentally challenged Chik (Vasile Flutur) to perpetrate the theft of the dress. A plan hatched by the Green Street prostitute Edith (Annie Montgomery) who was tipped off to the location of the dress by the cottage’s help Dorothy (Bettina Goolsby). All the actors contribute greatly to the period’s authenticity with their hard-bitten attack to their lines which will remind you of the Warner Brothers movies of the Depression in the best way but they also fulfill many other functions in this multi-faceted production providing Foley sound, creating special effects as the dress takes on a life of its own and excitingly recreating the assassination from several perspectives in breath-taking fluidity and economy. The play is at times a heist comedy, a period drama with social justice themes and an otherworldly haunting ghost story. There was plenty of suspense, laughs and genuine thrills at the story itself and the inventive staging. My favorite was the rooming house itself which was comprised of a cube of connected PVC pipe which took on a life of its own.
Selling tickets at Foy Hall was Dr. Krysta Dennis who had two other productions that afternoon crosstown as producer of “Yours, For the Oppressed” with Black Theater Troupe of Upstate NY, Inc at the Meyers House, an Underground Railroad Historic site on Livingston Ave and her fantastic production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” produced with Northeast Theatre Ensemble at the Albany Distilling Company farther down Livingston Avenue at number 75. Maeve McEneny in her curtain speech welcomed and thanked Pat Devane who ran the Live at the Lakehouse company which nurtured young John McEneny in his formative years in Albany decades ago. Albany’s theater community-past, present, future and far-flung were all in the house Sunday afternoon and it was a mighty tale told.
If you would like to contribute to Piper Theatre Productions and their youth theater programs or their hopes to develop and tour “The Lincoln Dress” to festivals in Scotland and Romania, you can mail a donation to PO Box 150613, Brooklyn, NY 11215 or visit them online at pipertheatre.org.