Having joined the Globe 18 months ago, Jerry Patch is in full stride as resident artistic director, evidenced by the Globe debut of playwright John Strand with the Aug. 10 world premiere of his beyond smart and clever new play, "Lincolnesque." Imbued with history, philosophy and politics, the work continues through Sept. 10 in the 225-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage (www.theoldglobe.org or 619.23.GLOBE).
The set-up sounds intellectual enough to put off one who expects the usual, something glib and puddle-deep. What one finds instead is a fascinating and philosophical exploration of what it takes to survive in an insane world; when and by what means do we check out; what is truly important; and what is wrong with politics and, by extension, America. Strand manages to imbue his characters with humanity and the ability, however obliquely, to address these issues.
Francis (T. Ryder Smith) is delusional. When the play opens, he is Abraham Lincoln, in fact, delivering an 1858 oration that laments the ongoing War Between the States. Though he believes he is Lincoln, and though Copland-esque music a la "Lincoln Portrait" is heard in the background, he is jolted by the Washington, D.C., traffic whizzing by, even at 11:15 p.m.
Francis is rescued from the traffic circle by his brother Leo (Leo Marks), who writes speeches for a present-day senatorial candidate 15 points behind in the polls. That is, Leo tries to write speeches when he's not trying to coax Francis back into the land of the living. Evidently the brilliant Francis has had a severe psychotic episode and was only recently released into Leo's care. Leo is torn between caring for his brother and winning the election. Smith and Marks' performances are truly memorable.
Magaly Colimon plays Leo's ruthless boss Carla with dominatrix zest. The role strains credibility in the first act, but becomes more clear in the second. The brilliantly understated James Sutorius portrays a rival spinmeister who's at low ebb in his personal life. In masterful juxtaposition, Sutorius also plays Francis' homeless buddy, named secretary of state by the delusional Francis, whose escape into the Lincolnesque is as pitiable and understandable as Parry's in the 1992 film, "The Fisher King."
Lindsay Jones provides the stirring sound design. Michael Fagin's scenic design is effective and imaginative. Anne Kennedy's costumes and Chris Rynne's lighting complete the portrait. New York director Joe Colarco makes an impressive Globe debut.