By Kevin Kelley
Imagine being able to hear a talk by Abraham Lincoln just weeks before the end of the Civil War.
The Westlake Historical Society and Clague Playhouse are presenting a reasonable facsimile Saturday and Sunday at the playhouse theater in “An Evening with Abraham Lincoln.” Westlake resident Mel Maurer appears as the 16th president in the one-man show. The 2 p.m. Sunday performance has been sold out, but about two dozen tickets remain for Saturday’s show, which begins at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased by calling the Clague Playhouse box office at 440-331-0403.
Proceeds from the shows will benefit Clague Playhouse and the Westlake Historical Society’s plans to erect a historical marker commemorating the Clague family’s contributions to the community.
Maurer, a retired information technology executive, has been portraying Lincoln for more than five years. His interest in Lincoln dates from childhood, when he read a book about the Civil War president in grade school.
For the past 14 years, Maurer has attended the Lincoln Forum Symposium, an annual conference at Gettysburg, Pa., that draws prominent Lincoln scholars and historians.
The scenario for this weekend’s performance is that Lincoln has been persuaded by his wife to give a lecture to benefit Civil War orphans and widows at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The audience for the imagined talk would likely be Lincoln supporters, Maurer explained.
“It’s an occasion in which he’s going to let his hair down a bit,” Maurer said.
Maurer said his goal is to humanize the 16th president, enable the audience to see him as an imperfect leader, not as the iconic giant memorialized in the Lincoln Memorial.
Lincoln was crude in many ways, Maurer said; he had only a year’s worth of formal education, but read extensively.
Some people are surprised to learn Lincoln had a strong sense of humor. He was criticized by some for telling humorous stories, Maurer said.
The performance is reminiscent of actor Hal Holbrook’s one-man show “Mark Twain Tonight,” said Maurer, who is currently reading the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” author’s autobiography, not published until 2010.
“Both had a great gift with words,” Maurer said, adding they each had humble beginnings and similar viewpoints.
Like Holbrook’s performances of Twain, Maurer’s performances of Lincoln are never identical. Maurer, who has read extensively on Lincoln, makes a point of using the Illinois politician’s own words.
“It’s Lincoln’s stories, his life, his words, his viewpoints on things, held together with humor,” Maurer said of “An Evening with Abraham Lincoln.”
One of Maurer’s big goals is for the performance to be entertaining. “I don’t want people thinking they’re coming to a history class,” he said.
Maurer said he hopes his audience comes away with a sense of Lincoln’s skills as an attorney, politician, writer and speaker. He said he wants to convey “not necessarily what a great president he was but what a great human being he was.”
Maurer realizes people will compare his performance to that of Daniel Day-Lewis, who won the Academy Award for his acting in the 2012 film “Lincoln.”
“That isn’t fair to Daniel Day-Lewis,” Maurer jokes. But he’s quick to add that the English actor did a great job in conveying Lincoln’s humor, anger and political cunning.
Lincoln isn’t the only figure in Maurer’s repertoire. A member of the Westlake Historical Society, Maurer portrayed Westlake library founder Leonard Porter numerous times during the community’s bicentennial celebrations in 2011. While living in Tennessee in the early 1990s, he became a minor celebrity for his appearances in a Batman costume to collect toys for the Toys for Tots charity.