Theater archives

Wife Life


In 1875, 10 years after her husband’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln was declared legally insane and committed to an asylum by her son Robert. Some of the evidence used against the former first lady included her fondness for the occult, her fear of being murdered, and—as she told one doctor—her belief that Indian spirits were pulling wires out of her eyes. It seems that Mary could have used a little R&R, but that wouldn’t make for much of a story. Instead, writer June Bingham and composer-lyricist Carmel Owen run with the theory that her politically ambitious son held her prisoner there. Portrayed as more of a mild eccentric than a psychotic shrew, Mary neatly explains away her supposed delusions. (Those Indian spirits? Migraines, she says. Crazy spells? Overmedicated.)

Despite being one-sided and a bit slow in parts, Fabrizio Melano’s sanatorium-set production, which takes a few nice detours down memory lane with Abe (John Jellison), is generally entertaining and, at times, quite moving. Of the six talented cast members, the charismatic Carolann Page is most impressive, skillfully capturing Mary’s deep sorrow and depression as well her fiery determination to win back her freedom. Vocal powerhouse Joy Lynn Matthews shines as the sympathetic nurse.