“The Children’s Hour” – Outskirts Theatre Co.
Directed by Dylan Sladky
Lilian Hellman’s riveting story featured an outstanding cast that mesmerized the audience on opening night. You could barely even hear the audience members breathing, so captivated were they by the performances.
“This Prison Where I Live” – Theater Red
Written and directed by Angela Iannone
The second show in its Edwin Booth Series gave audiences a window into this intriguing character with a smart, well-tuned production.
FAMILY GHOSTS: “THE PRISON WHERE I LIVE”
SEPTEMBER 3, 2018 JGRYGNY
by Jeff Grygny
Ghosts have appeared for centuries in theaters as diverse as Elizabethan drama and the Japanese Noh. Old theaters traditionally have a “ghost light,” a lit bulb on the stage after hours, so that nobody—including restless spirits, presumably—will stumble in the vast, dark space. In The Prison Where I Live, the second in Angela Iannone’s series of plays about Edwin Booth, now playing in a production by Theatre Red, we meet two shades from the great actor’s past: his beloved lost wife, who is silent, and his brother, who won’t shut up.
If ever there was a great subject for historical drama, it’s Booth. A megastar Shakespearean actor-manager at a time when Shakespeare and the Bible were America’s most commonly-read literature; the heir of a famous theatrical family, and an odd genius with many eccentricities, whose natural delivery contrasted with the grandiloquent acting style of his contemporaries. No stranger to personal tragedy, Booth lost one wife to disease, and a child of a second wife to medical malpractice, which left the mother in a fragile mental state. Oh, and his brother and fellow-actor shot the most revered man of the century, and died, hated and hunted, in a barn set on fire by the soldiers who pursued him. From this historical panoply, Iannone distills a claustrophobic five-person psychodrama: we are trapped with Edwin Booth, essentially in his head, as he grapples with memories, regrets, and artistic paralysis.
We find Booth on tour in Chicago, rehearsing for a performance of Richard II and fending off the badgering attentions of his public, his half-mad wife, and his dead brother. The dialog is phrased in diction that recalls the writing style of the period; Iannone’s intensive archival research shows up in myriad details. For instance, John Wilkes’ spirit (played with uncanny resemblance by a rakish Corey Jefferson Hagen) speaks in a Southern drawl, which must, one assumes, have some basis in the historical record. But so far as his political views and ideologies, or what Edwin thought of them, all we see is the again, presumably documented fact that Edwin forbids the mention of his brother’s name, and—in the play’s most harrowing scene—we learn how, one night alone, he burned John’s mementos (theatrical props and costumes) in a basement furnace.
Jared McDaris plays Booth with the advantages of flowing locks, a tragedian’s resonant basso voice, and a countenance that would look perfectly at home on a fifty-dollar bill; in the role of the silent specter of his wife Mollie, Andrea Burkholder brings a dancer’s grace. As the plot unfolds, we witness a supernatural intervention of sorts, and a reconciliation of the man with his past, in a moment that some may find uncomfortable, but that carries a psychological truth: sometimes the way to deal with ghosts is to bless them and let them go. If we can pull that off, we’re less likely to stumble in the dark.
Theatre RED presents "This Prison Where I Live" The brothers Booth make their Midwest debut
Who is Edwin Booth? If you're a theater fiend or know a thing or two about 19th century American history, you may have some idea. And if not, it comes as little surprise. As the brother of President Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, Edwin falls under a notorious shadow, despite being worthy of remembrance in his own right.
Edwin Booth was arguably the most acclaimed Shakespearean actor of his day, and that's partly why Director and playwright Angela Iannone feels compelled to tell his story. Making its midwest debut at Theater RED, This Prison Where I Live is one in Iannone's four-play Booth Cycle, with two more pieces currently in the works.
How one woman can work behind the scenes to craft such an eloquent and compelling script, while also finding the time to act on stage, is utterly amazing. During a Talk Back, Iannone all but said she felt intrinsically bound to Edwin Booth, as if the universe bestowed upon her the task of bringing him out from behind the eclipse of his evil brother. Edwin, Iannone summed up, was an incredible performer, American, and contributor to the arts; a man deserving of his own place in history, apart from his family ties.
In This Prison Where I Live, we meet Edwin Booth (Jared McDaris) at a Chicago theater in 1879. He's rehearsing lines for Shakespeare's Richard II, when he's repeatedly interrupted by the ghosts of his past — his brother John Wilkes (Cory Jefferson Hagen) and first wife Mollie (Andrea Chastant Burkholder) — and the snares of his present — second wife Mary (Marcee Doherty-Elst) and the uninvited Mark Gray (Brandon Haut, marvelously nerve wracking).
Edwin's wives represent a portion of the titular prison: Mollie grasps him in the guilt of unsaid goodbyes, while Mary's unhinged mental state imprisons his daily existence. Though she has just one line of dialogue, Burkholder's Mollie silently entrances, while Doherty-Elst's Mary is verbose, imperious, and unmistakably mad.
But the ladies must make way for the Booth brothers, without whom this show couldn't be an excellent one. In reality, picking a favorite Booth requires no thought — but picking a favorite in This Prison Where I Live? It's too close to call.
McDaris exudes all the spellbinding conviction of a renowned thespian, while simultaneously crumbling within the confines of Edwin's mental and emotional distress. As for Hagen, he brings such Southern swagger, humor, and charm to John Wilkes, you almost forget how the man's actions shattered America in 1865. The two men play off each other with wonderful ease, capturing a brotherly bond that's believable and complex.
Iannone's articulate, commanding spirit comes through in the characters she's written and the actors she's directed.
Going into Theater RED, I was one of those who knew very little of Edwin Booth, apart from his villainous brother. I left This Prison Where I Live contemplating a life lived in another's history-shattering wake. Iannone's achievement, beyond the work itself and assembling such a stellar group of creatives, lies in encouraging a curiosity for histories both infamous and intimate.
Tales of Booth family resumes with 'In This Prison'
BY JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic
Aug 30, 2018 Updated Jan 24, 2020
MILWAUKEE - When the renowned actor-director-playwright Angela Iannone researched the famed and troubled life of the infamous actor Edwin Booth, she found herself fascinated with the complexity of his life. With that curiosity and her prodigious talent, she began writing a cycle of plays about him. Her first, "The Seeds of Banquo," which played at Soulstice Theatre in 2015, is now followed by the intriguing sequel "This Prison Where I Live," now being staged at the Tenth Street Theatre.
Edwin Booth, one of three illegitimate sons of the successful actor Junius Booth, was the most successful actor of the three siblings. His younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, however, enjoyed some success as well, but was always jealous of his older brother's greater acclaim. John was better looking and brasher than Edwin and led a looser lifestyle than his brother.
Edwin was understandably deeply grieved and ashamed of his brother's shocking actions. His life was never the same after John disgraced and destabilized the family. In this drama, we experience Edwin's anxiety when he is visited by John's and his deceased wife Mollie's ghosts. The other two characters that people this drama are his second wife Mary and a devoted theatergoer, Mr. Mark Gray, who attempts to interview Edwin regarding his views on death.
The play is tense throughout, and the five actors all do their part to sustain this atmosphere. Occasionally there is a tad of humor, usually delivered by John's ghost, which provides a wry contrast.
As the play opens, Edwin is preparing for his role as Richard II, a role that he has reprised countless times, but on this night, he is palpably rattled. When his present wife arrives to calm him, he cursorily dismisses her. When John arrives, with his cocky swagger, Edwin gets even more shaken. His first wife, the diseased Mollie, also appears to him, a woman whom he deeply loved but neglected during his short marriage to her. We sense his guilt and remorse whenever she appears.
Edwin is obviously imprisoned by the ghosts of his past. When one of his fans arrives upon the scene, a young man who is suffering from an incurable disease, and asks him questions about death, Edwin is outraged to be asked such personal questions, and his fierce protection of his privacy is clearly manifest in his interaction with the hapless Mr. Gray.
Jared McDaris captures the internal anguish of Edwin; Cory Jefferson Hagen, the overweening bravado of the young assassin; Brandon Haut, the neurotic anxiety of the young theater buff. All three actors are fascinating to watch. Each is highly individualized and splendidly fit for their roles.
The two wives, who play lesser roles, are well-portrayed by Andrea Chastant Burkholder as Mollie, the beautiful wraith; and Marcee Doherty-Elst, the frustrated wife unable to reach her husband. They both added to the cumulative agony of the suffering actor.
Excellent acting, a well-conceived script directed by its author, well-chosen costumes (Leah Dueno) and a chilling set design (Christopher Elst) all combined for an engrossing experience. This production deserves a bigger audience.
AT A GLANCE "This Prison Where I Live"
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