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'The Rivalry' flares again in LA Theatre Works show

November 15th, 2011 11:07 pm by staff report

One hundred and fifty-three years ago, little-known candidate Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas faced off in seven fiery debates that were the talk of the nation.

Lincoln and Douglas will argue the role of government and race, social and economic issues once again at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18.

Their location this time is East Tennessee, and their platform the V.A. Memorial Theatre, rather than the campaign trail.

Fighting the verbal battles for Lincoln and Douglas are, respectively, Robert Parsons, who has been seen in the films “Black August” and “Almost Famous” and on television in “Nash Bridges,” and Josh Clark, whom audiences will recognize from “Heroes,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “All My Children” and the films “Ragtime” and “Little Nikita.”

Although Lincoln, labeled a radical for his stance on slavery, would lose the Illinois Senate race because of Democratic gerrymandering, the soon-to-be president knew it was a “slip and not a fall,” and indeed, he was elected two years later, in 1860, to the White House.

Using the riveting dialogue from the original debate transcripts, Parsons and Clark will recreate these titans of politics for the ETSU performance of the tour of Norman Corwin’s “The Rivalry” by the noted radio theater company L.A. Theatre Works.

“The Rivalry” raises questions of values and rights that are still questioned and debated today, as well as adding insights from Douglas’ wife, Adele, as the debates cause her to examine her own concepts of freedom.

Co-starring as Adele is Rebecca Mozo, an LATW regular who has been seen in “Cold Case,” “Medium” and “Young and the Restless” as well as numerous stage productions and films.

The New York Times called the play, which opened on Broadway on Lincoln’s birthday in 1959, “evocative, inspiring and stirring theater.”

“For a work written 50-odd years ago about political debates that occurred a century and a half ago, ‘The Rivalry’ is surprisingly resonant for today’s audiences,” reported the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.

Many of Corwin’s works, such as “The Rivalry,” have remained popular and are often revived because of their universality, says Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis.

“Corwin was an award-winning American writer and producer, as well as an important figure in the Golden Age of Radio during the 1930s and 1940s,” DeAngelis says.

“Many of his works address issues of historical and social importance. ‘The Rivalry,’ first performed on Broadway in 1959, raises important questions of values and rights that are still discussed and debated. This production by L.A. Theatre Works will help us gain insights both to historical events and to questions we still find difficult today.”

Under the leadership of its producing director, Susan Albert Loewenberg, L.A. Theatre Works has been the foremost radio theater company in the United States for more than two decades and this year chose “The Rivalry” for one of its tours with the 2012 election in mind.

“What is so heartbreakingly different from today’s political scene is how principled they both were, putting the nation before their own hopes,” Loewenberg says.

Shannon Cochran, who has worked with L.A. Theatre Works for more than 10 years, directed this production.

Most recently appearing as The Narrator in the tour of “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial,” she has been a part of at least a dozen productions for LATW, and directed last year’s tour of “The Real Dr. Strangelove.”

She was seen in the Broadway national tour of “August: Osage County,” for which she received a Helen Hayes nomination and in numerous films and television shows, including “Fringe,” “Law & Order,” “The Office” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Broadcast in America on NPR stations, streamed online at and aired internationally on the BBC, CBC and other English language networks, LATW has brought the finest recorded dramatic literature into the homes of millions. The company records the majority of its productions annually in Los Angeles before an audience of season subscribers.

Performances by L.A. Theatre Works are immediate and spontaneous and include the live sound effects of radio in a traditional theater setting.

Works by Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, Lillian Hellman Athol Fugard, Joyce Carol Oates, Wendy Wasserstein, Neil Simon, David Mamet, Lynn Nottage and others have been performed and recorded by LATW with casts of critically acclaimed film and stage actors, including Stacy Keach, Kathleen Turner, Richard Dreyfuss, Laura Linney, Julie Harris, Edward Asner, Hector Elizondo, Helen Hunt, Neil Patrick Harris and Paul Giamatti.

“L.A. Theatre Works,” says The Philadelphia Inquirer, “is a national theatrical treasure.”

For information about the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or the film series, call (423) 439-8587 or visit or

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