Edwin: The Story of Edwin Booth
By Paulanne Simmons
Before April 14, 1865, the Booth family was known mainly for the many great actors it produced, from Junius, Sr. to Edwin, to Junius, Jr. and of course John Wilkes. If scandal ever tainted the family image, it was most probably caused by alcoholism and sexual indiscretions. But once Johnny put a bullet through President Lincoln’s head, all that changed.
Adam Bashian, Deanne Lorette, Patricia Noonan, Paul DeBoy, Dana Watkins, Todd Lawson, and Ben Mayne
Edwin, The Story of Edwin Booth, with a book and lyrics by Eric Swanson and music by Marianna Rossett, is a dramatic musical that takes place backstage at the Winter Garden, opening night, January 1866, when, after a 9-month hiatus, Edwin (Dana Watkins) makes his return to the stage, playing the title role in Hamlet. This is an event filled with danger and anxiety. But although Rob (Ben Mayne), the guard who has been hired to protect Edwin, makes an appearance from time to time, most of the play is devoted to the ghosts from the past that won’t give the actor any peace.
We meet Mary Ann (Deanne Lorette), Edwin’s doting, long-suffering mother; his drunken and often unloving father (Paul DeBoy); and Mollie (Patricia Noonan), his saintly wife. His older brother, Junius, Jr. (called June and played by Adam Bashian) flits in and out of the play for no apparent reason. And of course there’s the belligerent Johnny (Todd Lawson), who, curiously, talks more about how much he dislikes Edwin, whom he blames for the death of his father and Edwin’s wife, than he does about what led him to kill the president. This is unfortunate, because the assassination is the cause of the only real drama in this play: the imminent danger to Edwin’s life.
So instead of drama we get various conflicts that go nowhere because they all happened in the past and have little to do with the present situation. Did Johnny kill Lincoln because he had problems with his older brother? Or was it because he was not-so-secretly in love with Edwin’s wife.? Who knows?
Because the Booths were principally Shakespearean actors, Swanson felt it necessary to include ample quotes from the Bard as well as whole scenes from a few plays. This seems to be intended to shed light on the Booths. But in reality, these references do little more than show off Swanson’s erudition.
What’s more, these actors, most of whom have a background in musical theater, do not seem particularly comfortable with Shakespeare’s lines, which don’t exactly come “trippingly on the tongue.” What we see is talented performers doing their best in the wrong play.
There’s also a score with lots of songs that seem like little more than afterthoughts. Mostly they give the characters one more chance to talk about themselves. Nevertheless, it is a great pleasure to hear a few of these actors sing, especially Lorette.
Surely there is a story to be told about the great tragedian who was witness to and somehow involved with one of this country’s greatest tragedies. But that story is not served by Edwin.
Edwin: The Story of Edwin Booth **1/2
Runs through Sunday, September 18, 2016
Theatre at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th Street , NYC
For tickets, call (866) 811-4111.
Photography: Jeremy Daniel
Todd Lawson, Dana Watkins