Review: The Heavens Are Hung in Black (Shattered Globe Theatre)

| October 6, 2017

Darren Jones and Lawrence Grimm star as Dred Scott and Abraham Lincoln in Heavens Are Hung in Black             


The Heavens Are Hung in Black
Written by James Still
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Oct 21  |  tix: $35  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Not to be missed


Lawrence Grimm stars as Abraham Lincoln in The Heavens Are Hung in Black at Shattered Globe Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre presents
The Heavens Are Hung in Black

Review by Duane Barnes

When the final scene in The Heavens Are Hung in Black was over and the lights went dark, the audience, sitting in the darkness, uttered not a sound, made no movement, scarcely exhaled – there existed only a marvelous, stunned silence. Then applause, and a well-deserved standing ovation.

Don Bender, Leo Sharkey and Lawrence Grimm star in The Heavens Are Hung in Black, Shattered Globe TheaHeavens is a powerful play, wonderfully cast, brilliantly directed, beautifully played by an outstanding ensemble of talented actors. It centers around a pivotal period of the Civil War in 1862 when, after a year of fighting and dying, the Union armies have barely moved and when they did, suffered great casualties and loss of ground. The Confederate troops in Virginia are close enough to the capitol that you hear their muffled cannon fire. In the midst of this turmoil stands Abraham Lincoln (who prefers to be addressed as "Mr. Lincoln"), feeling, at times, that he’s not up to this job of being commander in chief. Lawrence Grimm, who plays Lincoln, does such a fine job that, in no time at all, he IS Lincoln. Wrestling with how to frame the Union cause, which he originally sees as preventing secession, Lincoln now is not even sure that Negros and Whites can live together in a free society. But the awareness of the great scar that is slavery begins to evolve as well. And herein lies the beauty of The Heavens because historical characters, some living, some dead begin to interact with Lincoln; some appear in dreams, some come to visit him in his office. All will give him pause in determining his actions about the role of slavery in America.

The first notable to appear is Dred Scott (Darren Jones who, in addition, handles the roles of four other men of various stations in life with a dexterous touch), and a discussion ensues on how Blacks are seen by a Supreme Court decision and how they’re counted for purposes of Southern politics. And thus comes the first nudge of the President’s thinking as related to slavery and the possibility of declaring emancipation. Other characters begin interacting with Lincoln. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Brad Woodard), a former rival for the presidency, now overseer of the war effort, a hard man with little mercy. His fiery resolve to “take no prisoners” versus Lincoln’s heart is a constant throughout the play which adds to Lincoln’s pain as the killing on the battlefields continues.Woodard also does a turn as Stephen A. Douglas (he looks like Douglas!), and there’s a lively continuation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates that adds more historical context, and also moves Lincoln another step closer to emancipation.

Lawrence Grimm and Linda Reiter star as Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, Shattered GlobeDarren Jones and Lawrence Grimm star as Dred Scott and Abraham Lincoln in Heavens Are Hung in Black Darren Jones and Lawrence Grimm star as Dred Scott and Abraham Lincoln in The Heavens Are Hung in BlacBrad Woodard, Lawrence Grimm and Don Bender star in The Heavens Are Hung in Black

John Brown (Zach Bloomfield) is powerfully and authentically portrayed as a firebrand, a man on a mission, and he faults Lincoln for waffling on slavery as THE issue. He and the other historical characters not only bring their characters to life, they fill the play with emotion, with history, and also show how powerful, and conflicted, the presidency can be.

Jefferson Davis (Don Bender) makes a crotchety entrance in his nightshirt, burning with rebellion, and – as some hard-liners today might agree – says he’s defending a way of life and that secession is the only answer. Bender fully manifests the anger and hate his brethren hold for their aggressors, and seemed so current, it was unsettling. Mr. Bender also played Edwin Booth in a calm and smooth manner, yet with a foreshadowing of events to come.

Darren Jones, Kelsey Colleen Melvin and Lawrence Grimm star in Heavens Are Hung in Black, Shattered

And there is Mary Todd Lincoln, played to perfection by Linda Reiter. She is bereft with sorrow having lost her young son, Willie, to a sudden illness. She masterfully moves her character between ultimate sadness and being the business-like First Lady, attending to her duties. Using facial expressions, body movement and silence, Reiter is the essence of Mrs. Lincoln, and her every emotion is skillfully portrayed. And in her deep sadness, she has become another burden for her husband to carry as he tends to the nation’s business.

Throughout the play, the pain and sorrow of the war is palpable, evinced by silent soldiers as witnesses to ongoing conversations about the successes or lack thereof on the part of the Union. In addition are supplicants to the president looking for mercy for their sons when threatened with death sentences for dereliction of duty. One such is Mrs. Winston (Kate Harris), widow of a Confederate soldier, mother of a captured teen son, branded a spy, facing a death sentence. The interplay between Lincoln and the mother is one of the most sensitive this reviewer has ever had the privilege to witness.

The Heavens Are Hung in Black, written by James Still, was a Pulitzer nominee and deservedly so. This is a play not to be missed. So don’t.

Rating: ★★★★

The Heavens Are Hung in Black continues through October 21st at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $35 (students: $15, seniors: $28), and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 35 minutes, includes an intermission)

Lawrence Grimm stars as Abraham Lincoln in The Heavens Are Hung in Black, Shattered Globe Theatre

Photos by Evan Hanover




Don Bender (William Seward, Jefferson Davis, Edwin Booth, ensemble), Zach Bloomfield (John Brown, Billy Brown, Canterbury, ensemble), Jennifer Cheung (Young Woman, ensemble), Lawrence Grimm (Abraham Lincoln), Kate Harris (Mrs. Winston, Westmoreland, ensemble), Darren Jones (Dred Scott, Theophilus Hammond, Uncle Tom, ensemble), Tim Kough (Ward Hill Lamon, Bates, ensemble), Kelsey Colleen Melvin (Thomas Haley, ensemble), Tim Newell (Walt Whitman, ensemble), Linda Reiter (Mary Todd Lincoln), Drew Schad (John Hay, ensemble), Leo Sharkey (Tad Lincoln, ensemble), Brad Woodard (Edwin Stanton, Stephen Douglas, ensemble), Gus Zaruba (Willie Lincoln, Newsboy).

behind the scenes

Louis Contey (director), Angela Weber Miller (scenic design), Madison Briedé, Hailey Rakowiecki (co-costume design), Michael Stanfill (lighting design, projection design), Christopher Kriz (sound design), Vivian Knouse (props design), Judy Anderson (executive production manager), Jason Shivers (stage manager), Ayanna Wimberly (assistant stage manager), Steve Peebles (asst. director), Rachel Lake (master electrician), Elyse Balogh (scenic painter), Tom Chandler (technical director), Kelsey Colleen Melvin (marketing, graphic design), Evan Hanover (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Drama, Duane Barnes, Shattered Globe, Theater Wit

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