BWW Review: World Premeire THE BRUTES Looks At Lost History Of The Booth Family
Casey Wimpee's new play, THE BRUTES, opens in 1861 and is set in 1864. It is a look at the storied theatrical family, the Booths. It examines not only John Wilkes Booth and his plans to assassinate President Lincoln, but also the people, known as Brutes, who conspired along with him in sympathy for the South. The play looks at the reasons John Wilkes was propelled to a destiny that would wipe his families history from popular memory.
Because Wimpee's work doesn't spoon feed his audience, a more than casual knowledge of the entire Booth family is desirable for audiences in order to enjoy the richness of this creation. There were eight people who were coconspirators with Booth. The play focuses on just four of the Brutes (Brittany Flurry, Daniel McGowan, Harrison Anderson and Jack Rodgers) who await orders from John Wilkes (Nicholas Kier). They are out of the public eye as the Booth family of actors begins rehearsals of a benefit performance of 'Julius Caesar.' Edwin Booth (Keith Adam Paxton) is haunted by the ghost of his deceased father, world-renowned stage actor Junius Brutus Booth (Judd Farris), who demands he run lines from 'Hamlet'. One of the main reasons the ghost haunts him is because Edwin broke with the declamatory acting style of his father. Junius Jr. (Jason Graf) is looking forward to working with his family for the first time, their sister, Asia (Marci Blackwell), is trying in vain to keep the production, and her marriage to Sleepy (Sam Owens) from falling apart and John Wilkes is late to rehearsal. The play exhibits the family strife and clashing political ideologies over a Thanksgiving dinner to remember.
There are a lot of hidden jokes in the show, chief among them is Handsome (Chelsea Anderson), who fills in for a number of missing actors at the rehearsal of "Julius Caesar", who keeps changing the line to "beware the ides of April". The famous line itself is of course referring to the Ides of March. The error of changing it to April is doubly funny because the assassination happened in April. It becomes a warning to the family that is missed by everyone.
Director Devin Finn has done a good job with Wimpee's script, delivering a taut and briskly paced show at just 75 minutes. The problem here is that the changes, as written by Wimpee are so rapid that they seem scatter shot and are confusing. The script is so packed with data that missing crucial information is extremely easy. That may be something Wimpee can address after this World Premiere production is over and things are learned that can only be learned when a script is on it's feet. The script is a remarkable piece of theatre but it imparts so much information so quickly that there are no places for an audience to catch their breath and digest what they've just seen. This is a production that demands the audience keep up.
The acting is excellent, and the actors function so strongly as an ensemble that it really isn't possible to separate them. This is a true ensemble and everyone is working in service of the story. It may take some time to adjust to the declaratory acting style of the ghost, but it also underscores the differences between father and son.
THE BRUTES is a fascinating look at a family that has become lost to time and history. John Wilkes's political leanings and his desire to stand out from his family at any cost make for rich source material. What makes this story so compelling is that one person's monstrous act completely erased the memory of the most famous acting family America has ever known. The Winter Garden theatre, built by Edwin, still is in use for Broadway productions. This production is remarkably timely in the fact that America today is as deeply divided as it was when the North and South were at war. And theatre is one arena that needs to keep examining our past to improve our future.
THE BRUTES by Casey Wimpee
Running Time: 75 Minutes, no intermission
THE BRUTES, produced by Theatre Synesthesia at The Back Pack (2400 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, TX, 78756).
Thursdays-Saturdays, November 30 - December 17, 2017 @ 8:00 PM
Tickets: Advance General Admission Tickets $15 or $20 at the door.
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