The Booth Variations at 59E59 Theaters is a sharp, visceral multimedia presentation. Written
by theatre virtuosos Todd Cerveris (who also stars) and Caridad Svich, it's the story not of John
Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln, but of Edwin, his brother.
Edwin was a famous actor who followed in his father's theatrical footsteps. Ironically, though well
known for his brilliant Shakespearean portrayals, he was catapulted to stardom only after his
brother's infamous act. Audiences came to see the brother of the man that killed the president,
not the actor.
Through video, soundscape and live performance, with original music, Edwin examines his
culpability in his brother's fate and his own career in the face of notoriety. His story is refracted
back through the lens of the Civil War, his association with famed Civil War photographer Matthew
Brady, and his own life. Thus as Matthew Brady tells him, "Your mere presence is your
performance" Booth explores the concept of life as a mirror of art.
Todd Cerveris who plays Edwin is riveting. He is flanked by Josh Mann and Lila Donnolo who provide additional voices and
sounds, though (in a mirror of the play itself) Cerveris/Edwin is the only true actor. John Wilkes Booth also makes an
appearance (through prerecorded video, played by Todd's brother Michael Cerveris), as does his escape accomplice, Davy
Herold. In counterpoint to Edwin's collected, if slightly puzzled, demeanor, John Wilkes is a red-hot demonic presence,
spewing anger and prophecy and garbled feedback.
Director Nick Phillippou (London's Actors Touring Company) brilliantly meshes the disparate elements into a truly unique
theatrical experienc that is layered storytelling at its finest. The non-narrative context heightens the poignancy of the
message. It is also technically dazzling, a breathtaking whirlwind of light, video and sound cues.
Audiences often have difficulty responding to a multimedia piece, but The Booth Variations wisely makes emotion (not its
technical expertise) as its focal point. The result is a gripping and cathartic evening.