Play poster, plus photo from meeting with (l-r) director Stacy Ohrt-Billingslea; students Tania Romero and Paulina Aragon; US Consul General of Guadalajara, Tanya C. Anderson; and author Michael Hogan
The untold story of how Mary Todd Lincoln helped a young Mexican envoy eliminate the French from North America comes to life in the World Premiere of a play this week at the American School Foundation of Guadalajara. Titled Lincoln and Mexico: The Untold Story, it’s a great way to gain insights about historical relationships between the USA and Mexico.
The play premiere coincides with the 150th anniversary year celebrating Mexico’s defeat of French occupation forces in July 1867. It’s a story of unlikely friendships and intrigue, based on factual history documented in Abraham Lincoln and Mexico published last fall by Michael Hogan, ASFG Emeritus Humanities Chair.
It’s also a play with two storylines—one historical and one contemporary. The main one is the history of relations between the United States and Mexico from 1863-1867; the second, set in modern times, is that of the students and their history teacher, Mr. North, at a small school in Guadalajara. As such, the play also offers insights into how educators can engage students in the learning process.
The play opens in 1863 when the US is in the middle of its Civil War. A 24-year-old Mexican envoy named Matías Romero arrives at the White House. His mission is to persuade Lincoln to support the overthrow of French monarch Maximilian whose armies have taken control of Mexico. Lincoln is far too busy with American affairs but his wife, Mary Todd, intercedes after Romero accompanies her on a three-hour shopping trip. He later meets with Grant and other generals and begins to raise funds to restore the Mexican Republic.
Just on the verge of success, Lincoln dies and Romero’s hopes seem thwarted. Likewise, the history teacher, who is writing this story, fails to find any US research to make his original thesis into a book. Like Romero, Mr. North is similarly discouraged. However, pressed by his students, he makes a trip to Mexico City where he discovers Romero’s personal diaries in a bank vault. He translates the diaries and finds that—even after Lincoln died—Mary Todd encouraged Romero to press on with his cause. He did so and raised over $18 million, acquired sophisticated weapons with the help of Grant and Sheridan, and enabled the Mexican armies to ultimately prevail over the French. Now, North is inspired to complete his own work.
The play ends in 1867 with the Mexican victory, and Matías Romero discussing the triumph with newly-restored President Juárez. While the president is grateful for Romero’s help, he advises him that he should not place the documents relating to the victory or his diaries in the National Archives. It is better that they rest deep in the vault of a Mexican bank until Mexico takes its place among the nations in the world. That time is now, when the 150-year-old story is finally told, and we see Mr. North and his students conversing as the Mexican and American flags converge on stage, and sound of marching music fills the theater.
Other historians and Lincoln’s biographers ignore the fascinating story of Mrs. Lincoln’s involvement, and textbooks in the USA and Mexico exclude her friendship with Romero and the ensuing intrigue. However, the story comes to life due to Hogan’s relentless search for documents to help his ASFG students learn more than what is in standard texts, and his multifaceted script brings it to the stage.
All of it makes a fascinating play, produced and directed and staged by ASFG drama teacher Stacy Ohrt-Billingslea, student assistants Tania Romero and Paulina Aragon, and a cast of dozens.
There are four performances of the play March 23-25: Opening night Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m., Friday night at 7 p.m., a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee, and a finale 7 p.m. performance Saturday night. Opening night will feature pre-performance remarks by U.S. Consul General Tanya Anderson. On Friday night, Gen. Clever Chavez Marin, noted historian and humanitarian, will address the crowd. Former Mexican Emb. Carlos Gonzalez Magallon will speak before the Saturday matinee.