The America Play

by

Suzan-Lori Parks

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The America Play: Act 2, Part D: Echo Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Foundling Father announces “Our American Cousin, Act III, scene 2.” In this brief act, the American Mr. Trenchard clumsily flirts with a British girl named Augusta, and Augusta’s mother Mrs. Mount—played by the Foundling Father—reprimands Mr. Trenchard and sends Augusta away. She explains to Mr. Trenchard that she will forgive him because he is “not used to the manners of good society,” and he mocks her and calls her a “sockdologizing old man-trap.” The scene ends with “Laughter. Applause.”
It is again impossible to distinguish the relationship between the different layers of reality represented here: is the Foundling Father speaking to Lucy and Brazil, and can they hear him? Is he the director or the audience of Our American Cousin? Notably, the scene from this play that gets reenacted here is the same one during which Booth shot Lincoln. The scene itself feels mostly comical and innocent (although Mr. Trenchard’s tactlessness could be turned into a metaphor for American identity), but knowing the circumstances of the assassination makes it seem altogether sinister. By staging this scene, Parks shows how context deeply influences the way people understand and react to narratives, and she also draws attention to a piece of the Lincoln assassination that is usually erased and left unexamined.
Themes
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon
Next, the Foundling Father gives a monologue. He thanks the people of “Snyder,” a “loverly” town, for having him. Then, he breaks out into his “crowd pleaser,” the first sentence of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address (“4score and 7 years ago,” and so on). He names states and their capitals, and then announces “the centerpiece of the evening!!,” which will be “The Death of Lincoln!” But he does not act it out—rather, he describes all its steps, from “the watching of the play” to “the pulling of the trigger” and “the screaming of Todd” to “the shouting of Booth ‘Thus to the tyrants!’” and, finally, “the silence of the nation.” He rambles on about the place and time where this happened, with whom and for what—“thuh freeing of the slaves.” He explains that the bullet made a “great black hole,” Lincoln died in bed, and “thuh nation mourned.”
The Foundling Father combines his original “Lincoln Act,” which allows him to speak and point out the greatness in Lincoln’s legacy, with the one he performed throughout Act 1. Strangely, however, he now narrates “The Death of Lincoln!” as though coordinating or directing it, rather than acting it out for pennies. His rambling story lacks the intimacy and power of his act—this shows the extraordinary difference between the action that historical events are, on the one hand, and the narratives that they turn into, on the other. But it also shows the difference between action and narrative as modes of representation and storytelling—which, of course, should draw those who are only reading this play to consider how it might strike them differently if they were seeing it onstage.
Themes
History, Narrative, and Multiplicity Theme Icon
Race and American Identity Theme Icon
Theater and Reality Theme Icon