It’s hard to pin down the moment in “Oh, Mary!,” a comedy about Mary Todd Lincoln, that will send Lincoln scholars and purists into apoplexy. It could be when the first lady disastrously auditions for a role in “Our American Cousin,” the play at which John Wilkes Booth would later shoot her husband on April 14, 1865. Or when the deeply closeted Lincoln is orally pleasured at his desk. Maybe the puke-drinking scene?
There have been walkouts.
“I’ve seen people at the box office who seem to think this is really a play about Abraham Lincoln, and I feel a little bad, but it’s also funny,” Cole Escola, the show’s writer and star, said in a recent phone interview.
“Oh, Mary!”: It sounds like a catty dramedy set at a pre-Stonewall gay bar, or maybe an alt-cabaret tribute to Jackée Harry and her chirpy signature greeting on the 1980s sitcom “227.”
“Oh, Mary!,” of course, is not about gay bars or Jackée Harry, but it is just as camp: The former first lady is presented as a bubbleheaded alcoholic, and she is the latest put-upon woman to enchant Escola. (The show opens on Thursday and continues through March 24 at Off Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theater.)
Far from being a student of the Lincolns, Escola, who is nonbinary, said they only started reading “a few cursory” things about Mary Todd Lincoln about three weeks ago.
“I wish I had done any research,” they said. “But I wanted to write the show for an audience who had the same third-grade understanding that I do.” (“I just wanted to wear the costume,” Escola deadpan confesses in an Instagram video.)
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