The Brutes-part of Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2018 at the Clemente
Review by Jen Bush
Barrymore, Baldwin and Booth. These are just some names that conjure up thoughts of some of the most distinguished acting dynasties known to stage and screen. Another commonality of equal notoriety is scandal. Each family has had its share of scathing occurrences but none so tragic as the one associated with the Booths.
The Brutes takes us back in time to the auspicious occasion of the singular evening that all three brothers, John, Brutus Jr. and Edwin shared the stage together. It was the one and only time they publicly performed together. The production was Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The performance was a benefit at New York’s Winter Garden Theater to raise money to erect a statue of William Shakespeare in Central Park. The true drama took place behind the scenes as tension mounted among the siblings. How ironic that a play fraught with conflict and political discord would be the one performed by the brothers who were also riddled with conflict. A play with an assassination of a significant political figure that foreshadowed the tragic reality of what was to come.
As the play progresses, we see a tension filled Thanksgiving dinner. There is jealousy and political disagreement among the brothers. Asia Booth Clark, the sister of the Booth brothers and husband of the company manager John Sleeper Clarke adds more conflict by flitting about flirtatiously. We see the plotting and unfolding of lethal plans of confederate sympathizers who will soon be joined by John Wilkes Booth. A character who was likely not present on the night of the production but who was present in the play was the patriarch of the acting family, Junius Brutus Booth Sr.
It is challenging enough for an actor to breathe credible life into the part of an average individual. Accomplishing this in a period piece with a little Shakespearean dialogue thrown into the mix is a lofty endeavor for any thespian. This cast rose to the occasion and produced a thoroughly believable period piece. Adam Belvo did an outstanding job of portraying Edwin Booth. He was unwavering in his discipline and highly effective in his delivery of the most successful of the brothers. John Hardin’s complex, layered and intense portrayal of one of the most famous assassins in history, John Wilkes Booth was riveting. Mick O’Brien gave a forceful, moving and dramatic portrayal of the ghost of Junius Brutus Booth. Bravo to Sara Fellini for brilliantly wearing a plethora of hats for this production. She was director, costume and prop designer while effortlessly and expertly played the part of the whimsical and coquettish Asia Booth Clarke.
While there is humor peppered throughout, this is a dark and heavy play with grave subject matter. We see some finely executed Shakespeare with snippets of a play within a play. The costumes were exquisite and well suited to the cast. The props were cleverly made and versatile. The steamer trunk was a thing of beauty. Seats on all four sides of the stage served to draw the audience closer to the action facilitating deeper engagement. Between Casey Wimpee’s script using language of a time long past coupled with the exceptional acting, it felt as if we were transported directly to the 1800’s and truly witnessing the brothers Booth and the tormented ghost of their father. It seems fitting to conclude with a quote from Edwin Booth himself. “But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls.”