Who says straight plays don't have 11 o'clock numbers? Andrew Lehman delivers a show-stopper in Theatre Banshee's otherwise seamless Mine Eyes Hath Seen, a theatricalized production woven together from letters, diaries, memoirs, and other writings of the Civil War era. As do the other seven actors in this splendid ensemble, Leman plays a variety of roles: Northerners and Southerners, leaders and followers. But when he takes the Gettysburg Address off the page, delivering it as it was meant to be delivered—aloud and with thoughts of the devastation underlying it—it speaks to us with the renewed life only a fine actor can give it.
Theatre Banshee co-founders and the show's co-creators, Sean Branney and Leslie Baldwin, insist on auditioning company members before casting Banshee shows, so longtime member Lehman brought Lincoln's speech, among others, to his audition. His first step of preparation was memorization. But then, he says, "The thing about it is, everybody's heard that speech at some point in their education, and everybody remembers the first line of it, but I think most people are vague after that first line. And so I saw it as an opportunity to do a speech that everybody almost knows but let them hear it—really hear it for the first time—by not reciting it but by saying it like you mean it."
And then Leman found his subtext. "It's amazing how relevant it is to today, right now, except for the specific parts about the cemetery. That speech speaks to me today, loud and clear. When I'm doing it in the theatre and talking about this battlefield, I'm talking about the theatre. I mean that speech, although in a somewhat metaphorical level about theatre, and that helps me sink my teeth into it." And that teeth-sinking gives tremendous poignancy to the speech, particularly its homage to those who have paved the way for we who follow.
"Mine Eyes Hath Seen," presented by Theatre Banshee at the Gene Bua Theatre, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Mar. 4-Apr. 10. $12-18. (818) 628-0688.