An American Story: Recollections of Charles Leale

photoHersey Felder’s An America Story is an oratorical masterpiece of a witness’s first hand account of a national tragedy in a very conflicted era in America’s history. Felder is best known for the dramatic storytelling of composers and musicians such as when he played in George Gershwin Alone. In An American Story, he weaves the recollections of a forgotten, yet vital character in American history, Dr. Charles Augustus Leale M.D., Union Army surgeon.

The performance opens in 1932 in the heart of The Depression with a 90 year old Leale, sitting in a red high back chair much like the one Abraham Lincoln sat in before his untimely demise, listening to the radio. He begins reminiscing of past events that led his life to one of the most tragic nights in American history.

Think back to the time sitting with your great grandparents and them spinning a tale of their youth where the ramblings and the events seem to intertwine to create a story, but sometimes you are not sure where they will lead or end; this is where, Charles Leale begins and subsequently ends with you at his feet still begging for more.

Charles Leale starts as any storyteller should, at the beginning. He explains how his father, a doctor, loves the theater but dies at an early age of forty, leaving a very grief stricken nine year old. Leale himself then becomes a doctor and continues his love of theater to keep the memory of his father alive.

Other events that lead up to the night of Lincoln’s death are the introduction of Stephen Foster’s melodies at a Minstrel Show sparking in young Leale the love of his music. Later, Stephen Foster is a patient of Leale’s and dies while in his care. The last character is John Wilkes Booth, who makes an appearance, when Leale is a medical student in New York. He buys a ticket to the performance of Julius Caesar, but during the performance, a fire break outs locking the inhabitants of the theater inside until its under control.  Once the performance is over,  the burnt bodies that lay strewn on the sidewalks and streets emotionally touches Leale to want to help.   As a result, he later  joins the Union Army as a surgeon eventually taking him to Washington D.C. and, of course, on to that tragic night at the Ford’s Theatre.

Why develop the Leale character instead of Lincoln?  To Felder, this is:

“a position that we call imagine ourselves in – what would we do in the presence of greatness – and tested at the same time by tragedy – this idea touched me and felt stage worthy.”

The audience suffers at the loss of Lincoln and begins to understand the choices Leale must make in the care of the president. It could have been anyone of us perhaps, but the choices and the decisions that lay ahead for the young doctor, foster the emotional attachment the audience begins to feel towards Leale and now his future. The play continues and ends with an emotional farewell to Lincoln and to Dr. Leale.

Felder not only produces, writes, and stars as the leading role, he composed it too. Using the tunes of Stephen Foster in the most climatic scenes of the performances he is able to convey the crucial thoughts and sentiments of the characters at that point in time.  Felder carefully sets the tunes such as “Beautiful Dreamer” and “My Old Kentucky Home” into new context during the death of Lincoln. Tunes once met to embody happiness and sunshine now marks the end of a great man and leader and the loss that the country felt. The musical composition displays the emotional defeat of the loss of the president, but always the motto we must go on for a better tomorrow.

Asking Mr. Felder why play such a pivotal yet such overlooked character in American history, he said,

“…the fact that he played such a pivotal role in one of this country’s greatest tragedies – a major historical role, and yet he had not interest in being a celebrity for the role he played- which was an honorable one. He simply wanted to return to his life, and do the best he could with what he had.”

Felder conveys this representation of Charles Leale in every aspect of the performance, simple yet deeply rooted in the belief of the American cause throughout our country’s history: an American experiment of democracy he calls it. This in fact is the basis for the entire story line America: the quiet, the sturdy, and the preserving spirit of the American people; this is Dr. Charles Augustus Leale.

Hersey Felder’s An America Story runs through April 7th at the Royal George Theatre. The tickets are between $60 to $65.

To see the full listing click here!

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