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Bang! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on August 29, 2012

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Dressed in a dapper costume of 19th century clothing, with a drawn on mustache, Scott Baker addresses us in the opening section of his self-authored, one-man show, in the character of John Wilkes Booth, the pompous Shakespearean actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in a theatre in 1865. Of a distinguished acting family, an inveterate performer, Booth speaks in a hammy, stage pentameter which borrows heavily from the Bard, seeking to ennoble his murderous intentions with an eloquence that would prove less suspect, perhaps, on the boards of a 16th century play house. He glowers and fulminates, preens and pontificates in ways that make you despair of his Brutus, or his Hamlet. The tyrant must die! He brandishes a Bowie knife and his pistol – stagily turning the barrel on himself – before re-directing it, leaping to action, and killing the house lights with a shout of “bang!”

Bang! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth is divided in to two parts. Mopping off his mustaches with a handkerchief at the commencement of the second act, Baker shifts gears, engaging a more measured tone as he tells us of what first excited his interest in Booth as a subject for a monologue. Not only were all the elements of the story, with their own theatricality, so richly and historically in place (in a diary entry Booth actually recounted a sort of dress rehearsal of the planned assassination, like the scene we have just witnessed), but obscure parts of the tale persist. Parts that suggest that Booth did not die in an army-lead raid just days after the event, but escaped to settle in Texas where, years later, as a wealthy, married man, he allegedly died at his own hand. Claims for his survival are presented, details elaborated, conspiracy theories revisited, as gradually we discover in the telling – the dramatic persona of Booth having been discarded – that we are now in the hands of quite another theatrical animal; narrator Scott Baker. With stagey flourishes of his own – lame vaudeville style jokes, acts of prestidigitation, vocal atmospherics – Baker assumes a 21st century Boothian hamminess in his accounting. As the trail leads gradually toward increasingly outlandish claims, Baker’s delivery proves spot on. Following not one, but two enacted death-bed confessions, there is perhaps something inevitable about the introduction of a traveling sideshow and some mummified remains. Imagine (if you will) Jack Palance concluding a narrative, as drawing to a close, he intones haltingly, breathily, “believe it or not”, and you’ll catch something of the spirit.

It’s all very enjoyable, sharp and humorously self-deprecating at the same time. Baker’s narrative delivery makes wise use of past theatrical styles, weaving them together into a teasing game of revelation that diffuses factual data even as it presents it. A secret society? A sinister globe-embracing plot? A curse? Well, of course there’s a curse! Now listen closely … An elaborate game of smoke and mirrors history may well be, but there’s an admirably restrained use of contemporary effects here; just the deployment of some long-serving, cheap magic of yore – a good story and an entertaining speaker. Strange the potency.


BANG! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth
The Drilling Company, Hamilton Clancy Producer
Writer: Scott Baker
Director: Richard Harden
One Actor! Thirty Roles! One Twisted Shocker! Verse, Song, Magic, Sideshow Antics and Stand-up Comedy! Discover how your History book lied to you about Lincoln, Booth and just about everybody else. And yes, there’s a mummy involved…
1h 20m   Local   Manhattan, New York
Vaudeville/Sideshow/Magic/Burlesque   Solo Show
Staycation: Ripped from the Headlines   In Someone Else’s Shoes
VENUE #09: The Gene Frankel Theatre
Sat 11 @ 4  Fri 17 @ 7:15  Tue 21 @ 5:45  Wed 22 @ 2  Sat 25 @ 7

This show ran as part of Fringe Festival 2012 an is now closed.


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