Perhaps the most famous family in American Theatrical history, only somewhat matched by the Barrymores, is the Booth family, specifically Junius Brutus Booth (ironically named after one of Caesar’s assassins in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar), Edwin Booth (the most famous Shakespearean actor of his day and some say of the 19th century), and the notorious John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln’s assassin). Several plays and movies have tried to capture the history of this decidedly half-mad family. A new play, An Error of the Moon, which speculates on Edwin Booth’s responsibility in the death of Lincoln, just opened on Theatre Row in New York City. It was written by Luigi Creatore as a result of much research and a vivid imagination.
Creatore postulates that Edwin was driven by mad jealousy to mistrust his wife and his brother John Wilkes, resulting in a child. Edwina. Edwin is basically a depressive personality, as he worried he might have inherited his father’s insanity. He was known for playing Hamlet (his own moodiness fit the role perfectly), but in the play is compared to Othello and Iago. If I were to choose a Shakespearean character that is driven to desperation by pointless jealousy, I would have picked Leontes in The Winter’s Tale.
In the play, John Wilkes is portrayed as a younger scallywag, who loved the women and looked up to his brother. I had always read that he suffered his own kind of madness, driven by comparison with his brother’s fame, and staking out the South as his territory and thus was sympathetic with Southern secessionist plots. When the South lost the war, John Wilkes decided to punish Lincoln personally and shot him, dramatically, at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.
Creatore would have us believe that Edwin could have stopped his brother but did not, thus sharing responsibility for Lincoln’s death. Edwin could not have stopped him and cannot be held responsible for his brother’s wild behavior. In the play there is no basis for Edwin’s jealousy.
The Booth family is endlessly fascinating but this play doesn’t fascinate. I liked the performances of Margeret Copeland as Mary Devlin Booth, and Andrew Veenstra as John Wilkes. I found the Edwin of Eric Heger to be stilted. Brian Wallace as the added everyman is the best thing about the show. Kim Weild was the director. An Error of The Moon Is playing on Theatre Row on 42nd Street through October 10.
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