BANG! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
August 17, 2012
BANG! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth is a mishmash of nineteenth century acting "style" colliding hard with conspiracy theory, and while neither greatly benefits, the creator is patently in love with his show. A one-man journey through the life and afterlife of John Wilkes Booth, the piece has an overwhelming amount of detail. Much of this coloring has potential interest but the piece leaps around and is not clear enough to engage despite creator/performer Scott Baker's obvious affection for all elements of it.
For anyone who may have slept through a portion of U.S. History class, John Wilkes Booth is on the books as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Pleasantly the show does not try to deny that fact, but does spend a good deal of time playing with a variety of stories from the purported life of Booth after the assassination, who according to this telling evidently survived the manhunt and somehow managed to go on to a life of both upstanding citizen of a Texas town and stumbling drunken reprobate across the Oklahoma territory.
The show has three segments—an initial section in which Booth declaims the story of the assassination while rehearsing it, followed by an explanation of the conspiracy theory details of his life post-Ford's Theater, and then finishing with stories of a vaudevillian "believe it or not" tour of the mummified body of "Booth" interspersed with magic tricks. The narrative voice as it jumps from Booth to the author to various characters within the life and after-life, is jumbled and so ambitious that it gets in its own way. Rather than flesh out any strand of narrative or commit to a greater theme to organize these various elements, BANG! careens from moment to moment, with the passion for anecdote overriding the development of story or meaning. Additionally, Baker speaks both from his personal perspective as well as the characters', giving the piece a disjointed feeling. It almost seems to be distracting itself with each new accent or pose, and cannot resist the opportunity for a death scene no matter how many have preceded it.
While Baker is obviously a performer of experience, it is not being utilized well within this production and the performance is overwhelmed by the material.
As theater BANG! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth does ramble, and as history it may be questionable, but without a doubt the creator is enamored of his materials and gives the audience a wealth of Booth trivia to consider.