Unless you are a history buff, you may not know that Brookeville, Maryland was the capital of the United States for a day. That was August 26, 1814, after the British had burned the White House and Washington D.C. President James Madison escaped to the town north of Olney.
Meanwhile, his wife, First Lady Dolley Madison, escaped to Virginia and helped saved the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart before heading to safety.
You can glean that and other interesting facts in the one-person show, “Dolley Madison, Presidentress,” on stage at Best Medicine Rep Theater Company over the weekend of July 12-14.
Mara Bayewitz stars in the play co-written by Stan Levin, Charity Goodman and Director Karen Dugard.
The show is a bit of a stretch for Best Medicine Rep, which usually produces comedies. “Dolley Madison” is not, but does have comic moments, and is a fun, delightful look at its subject, said Dugard.
In their research, the writers learned Madison was born a Quaker in North Carolina but eventually left the community.
She lost her first husband and one son to yellow fever, and was introduced to James Madison by good friend Aaron Burr.
She was really the first First Lady, in Dugard’s words, who, through her weekly soirées, was instrumental in getting influential Washingtonians to speak with each other who otherwise might not have. A social person, Dolley helped James Madison, who was very shy, to get elected as president.
Dolley Madison was given an honorary seat in Congress. When she passed away, the city closed down for a day of mourning so people could attend her funeral.
“The more we researched her, the more we wanted to,” Dugard said. “She was a delightful but complex woman. I love history, and love sharing.”
History consultant Bill Spitz and the Sandy Spring Museum helped with the play’s research.
After one performance at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, the writers turned to John Morogiello, Best Medicine Rep’s artistic director, to give the show a longer run, said Dugard, who in 2004 directed a one-person show about Abraham Lincoln.
Bayewitz, who has been acting since eighth grade and been involved in area theater in many capacities, is making her debut with Best Medicine Rep.
“I was thrilled to pieces about it,” Bayewitz said. “I think everything they do is incredible, and I can only hope to come close to that quality level.”
Still, Bayewitz admitted she had no initial interest in playing a historical character.
Levin, however, pitched the idea of a one-woman show using her name as the actress who would play Madison, then told her about it three weeks later.
“I had no choice, and I’m so glad, because I probably would have chickened out,” Bayewitz said. “It was put in the script that I could play a character rather than recreate a historical figure. I’m an actress and not a reenactor; though they sound similar, there are subtle differences.”
“Still, it is a great challenge to be playing a real person,” she added. “I feel an extra responsibility to honor the historical facts of the time and do justice to this incredible woman.”
Her greatest satisfaction in the role is a tossup between connecting with the audience on such an intimate level and overcoming the inherent discomfort of being the only person on stage.
“Dolley Madison, Presidentress” runs for one weekend only from July 12-14 at Lakeforest Mall (701 Russell Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD). Easiest access is via the Green Flower entrance. www.bestmedicinerep.org.