By David C. Nichols
3:41 PM CST, January 7, 2013
The title of “Abraham Lincoln in Two Miles a Penny” refers to the legendary account of the 16th president of the United States walking six miles to return a three-cent overcharge to a customer. Writer-performer Ed Trotta’s acclaimed one-man show about the Great Emancipator plies its modest wares to fairly engaging effect.
After an aural prologue of historical events ending with a gun shot, Trotta enters from the lobby, looking eerily like Lincoln. His jovial greeting makes it immediately clear that this particular dead president knows the score: “I never thought I’d set foot in a theater again.”
It turns out that Lincoln has received a dispensation “from belonging to the ages” to address 21st century audiences, primarily to dispel his “legend,” which “is sticking in my craw.” Opening at the Lincoln Memorial, Trotta’s text merges biographical overview and self-assessment with the celebrated wit. Much of the material is familiar -- self-educated lawyer, his courtship of Mary Todd, the Cabinet of political rivals, Gettysburg, and so forth. What gives this brief encounter its relative freshness is Trotta’s unwavering sense of character and perspicacity.
This is never clearer than when Lincoln views Mt. Rushmore: “Gods don’t fear. Legends don’t hunger. Nor are either likely to tremble at the prospect of a decision they have to make.” Indeed, and Trotta’s final drop of his acting mask gives us the measure of the man by default.
“Two Miles” is more casual glimpse than comprehensive portrait and could stand to lose 15 minutes through tightening, yet given the success of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” film, there surely will be an audience for this heartfelt tribute.
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“Abraham Lincoln in Two Miles a Penny,” Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Ends Sunday. $10. (313) 805-1772. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.