‘Lincoln at the Library’ Series Presents Corwin’s Riveting Debate Drama 'The Rivalry'

Apr. 22, 2013


“Oppression is a burden heavier than mountains, and only a great force can lift it.” 
– Norman Corwin (1910-2011)
 
FLORENCE, Ala. – The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, Pillar of Fire and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area at the University of North Alabama will present seasoned actors and UNA alumni Will Stutts and Terry Pace in a concert reading of "The Rivalry" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, in the colonnade of the library, 350 N. Wood Ave., Florence, Alabama.
 
The critically acclaimed Broadway play by award-winning stage, screen and radio dramatist Norman Corwin ("On a Note of Triumph," "Lust for Life," "The World of Carl Sandburg") is based on the historic political debates between rising Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln (Stutts) and Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas (Pace) in the 1858 Illinois Senate race.
 
“The Lincoln-Douglas Debates remain one of the most important contests on the idea of states’ rights and federal law,” noted Stutts, a professional actor whose wide-ranging gallery of characters encompasses several influential figures from American history. “Although the debates of the late 1850s were predicated on the aspect of slavery, they were in essence exploring fundamental questions about the unity of a free society and whether that unity could prevail.”
 
The fierce, high-profile Illinois senatorial debates – revealed in "The Rivalry" through the perceptive eyes of Douglas’ wife, Adele (played by UNA theater student Julia Gilchrist Matthews) – foreshadowed the controversial, nation-splitting challenges Lincoln would face in the aftermath of his victory in the 1860 presidential election.
 
“Norman Corwin’s play offers a fascinating, eye-opening look at the changing tide in public opinion and political ideology in the years before the country would be torn apart by the bloodshed and anguish of the Civil War,” Pace explained. “The Lincoln-Douglas Debates symbolized the bitter and divisive struggle that would soon be fought – a painful but necessary struggle over the soul of the American nation.”
 
In "The Rivalry" – which Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks praised as “a play for history buffs and those who yearn for words that give a lift to the body politic” – playwright Corwin (1910-2011) used the exact words of political rivals Lincoln and Douglas, editing them together to form a compelling dialogue on the revolutionary changes that would soon sweep the country under Lincoln’s presidency.
 
“The discourse of a century-and-a-half ago was every bit as passionate as it is today on the House floor or in the studios of cable news,” Marks wrote when "The Rivalry" was revived in 2010 at Ford’s Theatre (with David Strathairn as Lincoln and Paul Giamatti as Douglas) in Washington, D.C. “The difference, it seems, was in the art generated by the heat, in the caliber of the rhetoric that could be fashioned around the issues of the day.”
 
Pace – who teaches at UNA and also serves as the university’s interim communications director – worked closely with Corwin in the last five years of the author’s life. In 2010, he directed a Pillar of Fire reading of the dramatist’s whimsical radio play-in-rhyme,  "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas." An Oscar, Emmy and Peabody Award winner and Academy Award nominee, Corwin has been cited as a seminal influence on creative forces in American culture ranging from Studs Terkel, Robert Altman and Walter Cronkite to Rod Serling, Norman Lear and Pillar of Fire co-founder Ray Bradbury, who died in 2012.
 
“Norman Corwin will forever be remembered as the ‘Poet Laureate of Radio,’ but his contributions to theater, film and television are equally influential,” Pace maintains. “ 'The RIvalry' in particular remains a profound piece of dramatic literature. Its explorations of the themes of freedom, equality, justice, leadership and the moral fiber of the American character remain every bit as gripping and timely today.”
 
A native of the Shoals and graduate of UNA, Stutts has been hailed as live theater’s mercurial “Master of the One-Man Show” for more than four decades. His vast repertoire includes Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Clarence Darrow, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, John Barrymore and even Tallulah Bankhead. He and Pace have worked together (either acting together or directing one another) on performances of "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Bradbury Chronicles," "The Petrified Forest," "Present Laughter," "Amadeus," "Idiot's Delight," "A Christmas Carol" and "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas." 
 
"The Rivalry" is being presented in conjunction with the special “Lincoln at the Library” traveling exhibit, lectures, film screenings and other related programming at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. The series is co-sponsored by the library, Pillar of Fire, the Heritage Area, the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Park Service. For details, call the library at 256-764-6564, Pillar of Fire at 256-366-4512 or the Heritage Area office on the UNA campus at 256-765-5028.
 
A gallery of high-resolution photos related to The Rivalry is available for media use at:
http://www.unalionsden.com/archive/album.php?album=The%20Rivalry&year=2013