Tales of Booth family resumes with ‘In This Prison’

BY JULIE McHALE - Post Theater Critic

August 30, 2018

Cory Jefferson Hagen as John Wilkes Booth, left, and Jared McDaris as Edwin Booth in
“This Prison Where I Live.”
Traveling Lemur Productions

MILWAUKEE - When the renowned actor-director-playwright Angela Ianonne researched the famed and troubled life of the infamous actor Edwin Booth, she found herself fascinated with the complexity of his life. With that curiosity and her prodigious talent, she began writing a cycle of plays about him. Her first, “The Seeds of Banquo,” which played at Soulstice Theatre in 2015, is now followed by the intriguing sequel “This Prison Where I Live,” now being staged at the Tenth Street Theatre.

Edwin Booth, one of three illegitimate sons of the successful actor Junius Booth, was the most successful actor of the three siblings. His younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, however, enjoyed some success as well, but was always jealous of his older brother’s greater acclaim. John was better looking and brasher than Edwin and led a looser lifestyle than his brother.

Edwin was understandably deeply grieved and ashamed of his brother’s  shocking actions. His life was never the same after John disgraced and destabilized the family. In this drama, we experience Edwin’s anxiety when he is visited by John’s and his deceased wife Mollie’s ghosts. The other two characters that people this drama are his second wife Mary and a devoted theatergoer, Mr. Mark Gray, who attempts to interview Edwin regarding his views on death.

The play is tense throughout, and the five actors all do their part to sustain this atmosphere. Occasionally there is a tad of humor, usually delivered by John’s ghost, which provides a wry contrast.

As the play opens, Edwin is preparing for his role as Richard II, a role that he has reprised countless times, but on this night, he is palpably rattled.  When his present wife arrives to calm him, he cursorily dismisses her. When John arrives, with his cocky swagger, Edwin gets even more shaken. His first wife, the diseased Mollie, also appears to him, a woman whom he deeply loved but neglected during his short marriage to her. We sense his guilt and remorse whenever she appears.

Edwin is obviously imprisoned by the ghosts of his past. When one of his fans arrives upon the scene, a young man who is suffering from an incurable disease, and asks him questions about death, Edwin is outraged to be asked such personal questions, and his fierce protection of his privacy is clearly manifest in his interaction with the hapless Mr. Gray.

Jared McDaris captures the internal anguish of Edwin; Cory Jefferson Hagen, the overweening bravado of the young assassin; Brandon Haut, the neurotic anxiety of the young theater buff. All three actors are fascinating to watch. Each is highly individualized and splendidly fit for their roles.

The two wives, who play lesser roles, are well-portrayed by Andrea Chastant Burkholder as Mollie, the beautiful wraith; and Marcee Doherty-Elst, the frustrated wife unable to reach her husband. They both added to the cumulative agony of the suffering actor.

Excellent acting, a well-conceived script directed by its author, well-chosen costumes (Leah Dueno) and a chilling set design (Christopher Elst) all combined for an engrossing experience. This production deserves a bigger audience.

“This Prison Where I Live”

The play runs through Sept. 9 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee. Call 414-617-0132 or visit