There’s probably not a more perfect time to get inside of the head of John Wilkes Booth than now, the 150th commemoration of Lincoln’s death and Joe Brack smokes him out in his Don’t Die in the Dark.
There’s probably not a scarier place to be than in Booth’s head, and that’s smack dab where Brack takes us, along with his accomplished colleague, the talented Bradley Foster Smith, identified as “Guitar” who also plays assorted characters and also plays a mean jug.
The show opens with Brack, as Booth, sitting in the shadows having his final wounds described autopsy-like in emotionless clinical language while the dying assassin reacts and flinches in pain with each reflection. Booth’s was a long, agonizing death, starting with the festering broken leg from his leap to the stage after shooting the President point blank at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
That part of the story we know, as well as his escape on horseback through the Maryland backwoods and eventual capture 12 days later. Brack also provides a glimmer of the zealous nature of the man who was so consumed with hatred for all that Lincoln represented that he was determined to kidnap him, at first, but then resorted to killing him.
Brack’s script notes that Booth witnessed John Brown’s hanging after the ill-fated attack on Harper’s Ferry years earlier, admired the “Old Man’s” dignity of dying for a “just, noble and moral cause,” and was convinced that he, too, had his own Godly mission. In Booth’s mind, Lincoln personified the persecution of his beloved country; in ripping away the backbone of slave labor, Lincoln’s policies destroyed the livelihood of his Southern countrymen. The closer the “menial black beasts” got to freedom and equality, the more enraged he became, so that not even the end of the Civil War could stop him from taking a stand, leaving a mark, creating enough havoc for the South to rise again. Anything to stop what he considered to be the tyranny of Lincoln.
DON’T DIE IN THE DARK
April 11 – 26, 2015
City Artistic Partnership at
1469 Harvard Street NW, Rear
(enter alley between Harvard St and Columbia Rd)
Washington, DC 20009
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Details and Tickets
Brack covers these aspects and more with the language and manner of a charismatic and spirited Southern gentleman, down to the well-trimmed mustache and fitted waistcoat. He provides psychological insight into the mind of a man shaped by the illusion of theater filled with villains and heroes. Was Booth so caught up in the heated passion of portraying characters on the stage that some spilled over to his vehement rages about the direction of the country? We learn the theatrical credentials of the Booth family where both parents were noted performers, and the sons, John and Edwin, were stage struck. One scene shows the Booth brothers in a showcase demonstrating their different talents with Edwin reciting Shakespeare while John’s sturdy good looks and penetrating presence wins him acclaim —very effective. An iconic picture of them in togas along with brother Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. in Julius Caesar only adds to the mystery of how one member of a “normal” family with Maryland roots could go so dastardly wrong.
The Lincoln commemoration activities swing into full force this week, with the actual 150th anniversary dates of the shooting on April 14th at the Ford’s Theatre and the President’s death the following day. It’s my intention to attend the vigil that will fill the streets that night, and thanks to Joe Brack’s exquisite research and depiction of the man who changed history, I’ll have a better understanding of the inner world and character of the actor/assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Note: The small “Studio 1469” theater, address 1469 Harvard St NW, Rear, is accessible from an alley off 15th Street, in Columbia Heights. The show that awaits is worth hunting it down. You’ll find a small white-walled blackbox with comfortable seating.
This video guide by ShawnMikael will help you find it.