‘Rivalry’ educational entertainment from America’s past

With bipartisanship out of favor today, modern audiences likely will be amazed, entertained and instructed by “The Rivalry,” a play about the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas — who were both opponents and friends.

Norman Corwin’s drama, in an L.A. Theatreworks presentation, comes to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Sunday in a production directed by Shannon Cochran featuring Robert Parsons as Lincoln and Josh Clark as Douglas.

Lincoln and Douglas put patriotic principle above personal ambition and partisan gain, and after their famous clash they worked together for the good of the country. Douglas held Lincoln’s hat at his inauguration, escorted Mrs. Lincoln to the Inaugural Ball, and did everything in his power to support Lincoln in the struggle for the survival of the Union.

Yet their famous debates in the 1858 Illinois senatorial race were dramatic and sensational. Douglas, the incumbent Democratic senator, and Lincoln, in his first term in the House of Representatives, held three-hour, one-on-one debates in seven Congressional districts before audiences as large as 20,000.

In “The Rivalry,” which includes dialogue from the original debates, the action takes place in Washington, D.C., and various Illinois locations, starting in the summer of 1858.

While the focus of the debates was slavery, some corresponding topics — such as social and economic inequity, states’ rights and the role of the federal government — remain relevant today.

When “The Rivalry” was first seen on Broadway in 1959, it had special relevance to the emerging civil rights movement; today, it has a different, but still vital, resonance.

IF YOU GO

The Rivalry

Where: Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., S.F.
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $42 to $55
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org/arts

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