Emory Report

January 11, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 15

Ammerman writes, performs play about Booth

Theater Emory presents a limited engagement of John Ammerman's acclaimed one-man play, Booth, Brother Booth, Jan. 15-23 that looks at the tribulations of Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin.

As an actor and playwright, Ammerman said he was taken by the power of the brotherly connection and the ramifications of his brother's act to Edwin's life and career. In fact, the ultimate irony is that the Booths' reputation as tragedians--the brothers were part of a prestigious theatrical family--and the plays they performed reflected the kinds of personal lives they'd led.

At 19, Edwin suffered the loss of his father, then later lost his brother, two wives and a baby son. "This play is a ghost story," says Ammerman, "one that wrestles with the speculation of Edwin Booth's love and competition with his brother, John Wilkes, but also with the sorrow of life's tragedies and misfortunes."

Set in 1873, the play hearkens to a grand time in American theater when actors traveled throughout the country playing notable roles from classic plays in every imaginable venue-from stage to barn, in front of audiences of every age and background willing to pay hard-earned money to see the performances, according to director John Briggs.

Edwin Booth's theatrical reputation has been overshadowed by Lincoln's assassination and the infamy it created for John Wilkes. Even though that notoriety forever hounded Edwin Booth--he retreated to a brief retirement during the mood of national mourning and after receiving death threats--he remained popular and is considered one of the greatest tragedians and the pioneer of naturalistic acting in America. "We Americans are more wont to think of great stage actors as being British, and England certainly has a longer and more institutionalized heritage of the theater than we, but amongst the great--Europeans included--stands Edwin Booth," Briggs said.

Edwin refused to speak publicly of his brother after Lincoln's death, but it appears that he could never truly free himself of his family ties. "To the day of his death, Edwin Booth kept a picture of John Wilkes by his bedside--a lone remnant of his troubled brother," said Ammerman.

In addition to being on the performance faculty of theater studies at Emory, Ammerman is an associate artist with the Georgia Shakespeare Festival. Following the premiere of Booth, Brother Booth at the festival in 1995, he went on to perform the play at the newly reconstructed Globe Theatre in London. Booth was recently the featured production for the 1998 Shakespeare Theatre Association of America.

The complete schedule for Booth, Brother Booth: Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m. (followed by opening night reception); Jan. 16, 20-23, 8 p.m; and Jan. 17, 3 p.m.

The play will be performed in the Black Rose/ Mary Gray Munroe Theater. Tickets are $12 general admission; $9.50 seniors, students, Emory faculty and staff; $5 Emory students with ID. For additional information or to purchase tickets, call 404-727-5050 or send e-mail to <boxoffice@ emory.edu>.

--Deb Hammacher

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