Amazing Journey

Review: The Booth Variations
Curtain Up
August 9, 2004
By Jenny Sandman

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.

Conceived and created by Todd Cerveris, Nick Phillippou and Caridad Svich Written by Todd Cerveris and Caridad Svich
Directed by Nick Phillippou
Starring Todd Cerveris; with Josh Mann, Lila Donnolo and video performance by Michael Cerveris
Projections and Lighting by Peter Negrini
Sound Design by Jeffrey Yoshi Lee Original Music by Michael Cerveris and Will Johnson
Costume Design by David Rigler
Running time: One hour and twenty minutes with no intermission
Moonshine Project at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street; 212-279-4200
8/05/04 to 8/22/04; opening 8/08/04.
Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm and 7 pm.
All tickets $30
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on August 8th performance Tickets are $30.

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