November 27, 2012 – Georgetown’s performing arts community has taken one of the most divisive times in the nation’s history and married it with holiday warmth to produce the D.C. premiere of A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration.
The play, set in Washington, D.C., on Christmas Eve 1864, juxtaposes Mary Todd Lincoln looking for a White House Christmas tree with a fugitive slave desperately looking for the young daughter from whom she has become separated.
“Part of the play’s success is its ability to walk the fine line between social critique and broad comic style with the benefit of the backwards gaze from our current sociopolitical moment,” says Nadia Mahdi, a performing arts faculty member and director of the Georgetown production that began Nov. 18.
The play, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel, runs through Dec. 8 at Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center.
Range of Voices, Stories
The musical includes a range of voices and stories and also looks at some of the period’s key figures, including President Abraham Lincoln, poet Walt Whitman, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and others.
Georgetown’s theater and performance studies program and its Nomadic Theatre student troupe and music program collaborated to produce the play.
The holiday musical also weaves together an array of voices and stories. Troops in both the Confederate and Union camps are represented, and the play includes classic Civil War era songs, spirituals and Christmas carols such as "The Yellow Rose of Texas," “Silent Night” and “O Christmas Tree.”
Past Vs. Present
Mahdi and fellow performing arts faculty members – Christine Evans, an assistant professor, and Nina Billone Prieur, a visiting assistant professor – will participate in a panel discussion about the play on Dec. 7 as a part of the university’s Doyle Film and Culture Series event, “A Civil War Christmas: Exploring the World of the Play Through Our Own.”
History professor Chandra Manning and performing arts student Sasha Elkin (C’14) also will join the panel to explore the broader historical context of the play and how the story resonates and reflects on present-day Washington, D.C.
Bringing History to Life
The production features a multimedia lobby exhibit created by faculty, staff and students that highlights Georgetown’s Civil War history. The exhibit includes podcast recordings of cast members performing letters and memoirs of 1860s Georgetown students and faculty as well as historical campus images.
“Staging this play here at Georgetown gives the production a unique resonance,” says Billone Prieur, a visiting assistant professor of performing arts. “As characters cross the Potomac and move from the [Mary E.] Surratt Boarding House on H Street to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children near Reservoir Road, they bring to life not only the stage but also the city that surrounds it.”
University archivist Lynn Conway and her colleagues in Georgetown’s Special Collections Research Center helped Mahdi, Billone Prieur and the production team over the summer with historical materials and served as research consultants for set and costume design.
“During the Civil War, Georgetown College served as a hub where Northern and Southern peoples, cultures and political allegiances were tested and tried,” Billone Prieur says. “[It’s] a history that continues to be remembered in our school colors of blue and gray.”
Conway says the Civil War may have been the most significant threat the university has ever faced.
“…By sharing archival materials [that] document how Georgetown reacted to and was shaped by the Civil War,” says Conway, “we are able to provide a meaningful and unique context for the performance.”
Visit the performing arts website for ticket information.