The reviews are in for Guthrie Theater’s ‘Appomattox’

The Guthrie Theater is celebrating its 50th anniversary with, among other things, a festival of Christopher Hampton’s plays. The center of the festival is the Guthrie’s production of Hampton’s Appomattox, a look at civil rights in the United States from 1865 to 1965.

Critics’ reviews of Appomattox range from ‘breath-takingly ambitious’ and ‘intellectually stimulating’ to ‘lifeless’ and ‘meandering’.


Harry Groener (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Wingert (Mary Todd Lincoln) and Greta Oglesby (Elizabeth Keckley) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of APPOMATTOX, by Christopher Hampton

Photo by Allen Brisson-Smith

From John Olive at

Appomattox provides moment after moment of utter pleasure. Lincoln’s nightmares are beautifully staged with effective projections and the vastly talented Sally Wingert’s potent reading of Mary Todd Lincoln. Shawn Hamilton plays T. Morris Chester, a journalist ensconced in the Virginia Senate Room with verve and compelling energy (Hamilton also excels as MLK in Act Two). As Lincoln and later as LBJ Harry Groener is compulsively watchable. He captures LBJ’s new-found passion perfectly; his rendering of the famous “we shall overcome” speech is spot-on, very moving. LBJ’s belittling of the verminous George Wallace (Mark Boyett) is priceless. The newly freed slaves in Richmond crowding around “Father Abraham” thanking him for their emancipation has bittersweet power; we know what horrors of oppression shortly await them. The play is filled with such treasures. Hampton is a writer of great power.


Shawn Hamilton (Martin Luther King, Jr.) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Appomattox by Christopher Hampton, directed by David Esbjornson

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Dominic P. Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

Shawn Hamilton intones the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. with vigor and, in the character’s less-public moments, shows the civil rights leader’s humanity and his doubts.

Those moments of humanity lift “Appomattox,” but there isn’t enough of that humanity to allow the production to really take flight. In the end, then, this is an admirable, somewhat dense work of theater that is more of an intellectually stimulating experience than an aesthetically satisfying one.


Harry Groener as Lyndon B. Johnson in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Appomattox by Christopher Hampton

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:

Take any five minutes of Hampton’s ambitious deconstruction of American political and social change and race relations and you’ll find intriguing, even compelling ideas. As a whole, however, Appomattox is a failure. A well-crafted and -acted one, to be sure, but a failure nonetheless.


The cast of Appomattox, written by Christopher Hampton, directed by David Esbjornson

Photo by Allen Brisson-Smith

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:

Let us be charitable. “Appomattox,” the new play by Christopher Hampton that had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater, has not discovered its identity or purpose. A meandering pageant through two painful eras of American history, “Appomattox” gives every appearance that Hampton is critiquing U.S. race relations. It’s tepid stuff, though, and Hampton rarely delivers an insight that transcends the voluminous public record on civil rights.


Sally Wingert as Lady Bird Johnson in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Appomattox

Photo by Michael Brosilow

From Ellen Burkhardt at Minnesota Monthly:

…after seeing the first two installations of Hampton’s work, Tales from Hollywood, Hampton’s portrayal of Hollywood from the eyes of German emigrants during World War II and into the 1950s, and Appomattox, which seeks to draw parallels between the final days of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement in 1965, I’m sad to say that right now, neither the Guthrie nor Hampton are living up to their reputations of greatness.

Have you seen Appomattox at the Guthrie? What’s your review?