BWW Previews: Edwin Booth's Legacy Englightens Angela Iannone's World Premiere Staged By Theatre RED
While most people recognize the infamous name of President Lincoln's assasin John Wilkes Booth, who might be familiar with his brother's name, Edwin Booth? Acclaimed and award-winning Milwaukee actor Angela Iannone collaborates with Theatre RED and brings Edwin Booth out from his brother's tarnished reputation. Her World Premiere play incorporates further details regarding Booth's life in The Seeds of Banquo, and opens this August as the fourth selection in her Edwin Booth Cycle of Plays.
For those uninitiated in American Theater History, the illustrious Edwin Booth was reknowned for being the greatest, most recognized and praised American Hamlet, acknowledged for his "!00 Nights of Hamlet," one of the first productions that ran in theaters for more than a week. A theater innovator and produce, who managed and owned his own playhouse, Booth added numerous dimensions to modern productions audiences take for granted today, including using a hydraulic lift to move scenery.
Working in the last half of the 19th century, Booth "moved America to the forefront of [what was identified] as 'naturalism.'" During this period in time naturalism exploded through the use of the melodrama, an ever-growing, popular theatrical genre often exploring immigration, misogynation, racism and suffrage for women on the stage. These contemporrary current events happening in the last half of the 19th century resonate with vague familiarity in the 21st centruy, if only women's suffrage could be substituted for gender parity, or equal pay and rights for women.
Naturalism also incorporated conntemporary clothing, language and music because melodrama consisted of five acts underscored by five songs in each act, with a clear hero, heroine and villian. This format prodcued an American slice of life illustrated through the theater, which audiences at first believed produced plays "too intimate and obscene because of how much emotion the actors showed."
Naturalism becomes a theme In each of Iannone's four plays on Edwin Booth, where four great Shakespearean plays merge Edwin's personal life with what occurs on stage. In The Seeds of Banquo, Edwin chose this particular play, and then the role of the Scottish King Macbeth, while his Amercan acting competitor, Lawrence Barrett, rivals him as Banquo. During the production in Iannone's play, Booth's second wife awaits the birth of his first son while Barrett has been furthering his own family lineage. This follows Shakespeare's Macbeth when the three witches at the beginning of the tragedy chant their prophesy that Macbeth instead of Banquo will be king, but Banquo's heirs will produce a lineage of kings.
Iannone masterfully connects the two stories in her play and researched Edwin Booth's prompt book and scenic design at New York's Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, an institution recognized for their archives on Booth. The research allowed Iannone access to Booth's theater design textbook, directing techniques in the form of prompt books and blocking designs for each production. Booth's theater philosophy maintained each production needed a cohesive design and scenery, which he provided for many of the plays performed at the Booth Theatre where Edwin was active from 1868-1974.
Theatre RED and Iannone use Booth's specific directions and designs from the library's archives. In fact, the company commissioned Booth's exact replicas of the sabers used in his Macbeth. One of Theatre RED's co-founders, Marcee Doherty-Elst, defines an amazing fact--their play, The Seeds of Banquo will be directed and designed by Edwin Booth through Angela Iannone, a historical recreation of his own play set within Iannone's world premiere.
"I am interested most in the storytelling [of Booth's life], writing the kind of play I like to see, a historical comedy," Iannone explains. "History written with with actual words these people-- and then these characters spoke...to gain an appreciation for Edwin's rich, rich theatrical heritage and coming out from his brother's shadow."
In addition to researching and making known Edwin's theater contributions and life, Iannone mentioned a little known fact about the fabulous melodramas being produced during this period. She continues by revealing, "During the late 19th centruy more women were writing plays than men. More women than men managed theatre companies. Those are facts worth exploring."
Theatre RED's world premiere of Iannone's The Seeds of Banquo came as Elst says, "A happy confluence of Theatre RED's mission: To produce substantial roles for women on stage, provide a slice of American theater life, and premiere local Milwaukee playwrights. This will be the frist season the company features three full length produciton under the theme "We All Have Blood on Our Hands," which begins at Bay View's Soulstice Theatre on August 13. A special performance of several scenes precedes the opening at Mayfair Mall's Barnes and Noble bookstore in Wauwatosa on August 1 from 12:30-3:30 p.m., a free presentation to advertise this recreation of a historic production where Elst also stars in the role of an important female actress, Mrs. DP (Elizabeth Crocker) Bowers and features John Glowacki as famed Edwin Booth.
Iannone concludes the fascinating theater discussion about Edwin Booth before beginning the first evening of rehearsals by saying, "I thought I was only going to write three plays on Edwin's life. But his legacy leaves so many stories to be told when the lines in the play blur real life and stage life. Where he [Booth] rehearses what becomes a looking glass into his self."
Milwaukee's Theatre RED produces Angela Iannone's World Premiere The Seeds of Banquo August 13 through 23 at the Soulstice Theatre, 3370 Pennsyvania Avenue, Suite 2 in Saint Francis. A paid preview will be available August 12 and a "Pay What You Can" night on Monday, August 17. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Players Foundation for Theatre Education in New York City, which maintains the Hampden-Booth Theatre Liibrary and restore the Edwin Booth bedroom, a part of the Libray. For further information on performance times and other programming, please visit www.theatrered.com.