Special thanks and congratulations to Jane Kosminsky, Artistic and Executive Director of EDWIN and Great Circle Productions, thank you for your kind words. And to New York Times Best Selling Author, Eric Swanson, Book and Lyrics to EDWIN. Thank you also for your kind words and support of my essay, “EDWIN.” Best of luck to you all in the future production of EDWIN, where history comes to life!
EDWIN, The Story of Edwin Booth
Theater at Saint Clement’s, New York, New York
September 14, 2016
Great Circle Productions
-Madness is the finer edge of sanity- Junius Brutus Booth
Edwin Booth was the third eldest of six surviving children born to British born actor and tragedian Junius Brutus Booth and his wife Mary Ann Holmes Booth on November 13, 1833. His birth was heralded in the small Maryland hamlet town of Bel Air with a meteor shower, a talisman that foretold of greatness. It was that talisman that would reveal itself to its fruition in the greatness and genius that was Edwin Booth.
In this theatrical adaptation of EDWIN, marking the 150 anniversary of his return to the stage eight months after his brother’s John’s crime amid death threats and public outrage, this adaption brings us to the inner fire of his pain and his genius.
Produced by Great Circle Productions, EDWIN, The Story of Edwin Booth is their very first project. The company is committed to bringing to life projects that inspire and offer hope and illuminate the human heart. Given the tragedy that befell the Booth family, especially Edwin who shouldered the responsibility of restoring his acting career and the Booth name, it was certainly a compelling and heartbreaking story to bring forth to life.
If you are a lover of history, of Shakespeare or the Booth family this theatrical adaptation gives one the opportunity to pause and to think; to think of what it really must have been like to be on top of the acting world one evening and villainized the next. To see from a living standpoint as opposed to the books of history, the blood and heart of the Booth family. The elder Junius Brutus Booth and his brilliance, Mary Ann Holmes Booth perfectly represented as a loving mother and wife to Junius. The wild brained brother Johnny, arrogant, petulant, yet the darling of the family. And Edwin’s loving wife Mary Devlin Booth lost to this life at the tender age of 23.
As to that, the production opens up with Edwin’s return to the stage for the first time since Lincoln’s assassination, his own painful history playing out in a series of ghostly apparitions of his past. Sitting in his dressing room back stage at the Winter Garden Theater on January 3, 1866, the ghosts of his past come forth to visit upon Edwin, his demanding eccentric father Junius, his temperamental brother Johnny, and his dear wife Mary. There are scenes moving both present and past throughout the production that tells the story of Edwin. Scenes of Edwin at the young age of twelve out on the road with his father the great tragedian Junius Brutus Booth, as caregiver and caretaker. The elder Booth’s rapid fire almost blinding soliloquies of Shakespeare that was Edwin’s school, that was both riveting and exceptional. His father sprouting to the young Edwin in his deepest most severe Shakespearean voice “Madness is the finer edge of sanity.” To see the brothers June, Edwin and Johnny standing on stage as the “Filii Patri”, for their only appearance together in Julius Caesar truly brought history to life.
Also projected by these ghostly apparitions is the prevailing theme of guilt, that perhaps Edwin caused the deaths of father Junius, brother Johnny and wife Mary in his quest for greatness. That perhaps if Edwin had accompanied his father on the trip from New Orleans to Cincinnati in 1852, to continue to act as caregiver and caretaker, the elder Booth may not have succumbed to a fever which took his life aboard a steamboat, on November 30, 1852. That perhaps too if Edwin had been more aware of the brewing and smoldering desires of brother Johnny, could he have prevented not only the President’s death but his brother’s as well? And finally what of his wife Mary, laying to waste at their home in Massachusetts, four telegrams sent to Edwin in New York telling him to come right away. Blinded by the ravages of drink, finally coming out of his stupor at last to find the last telegram, boarding the train at the time of her passing. This too gave me pause.
These events were woven in as the agonies and guilt of his past, the crescendo culminating as he steps forth into the present once again play Hamlet, the irony being Hamlet is about murder and assassination. And also this story evokes our civil war past, the time when North and South were enemies, a division of brother against brother that ripped at the very fabric of our great nation. As it ripped the nation apart, it tore at the very fabric of the Booth family. And like the nation, they found a way to heal and bind up the wounds and restore their name.
Upon Edwin’s death on June 7, 1893 in New York at the Player’s club, there was a great thunderstorm that disrupted New York City that night, perhaps the heavens welcoming back one of its favorite sons. However interpreted, it was a somehow a fitting end to a tumultuous and gifted life. A life that once again 150 years later still gives us pause. Extraordinary.
By: Lisa G. Samia