An Error of the Moon
nytheatre.com review by Keelie A. Sheridan
August 25, 2010
Sibling rivalry is a popular theme in literature and drama for good reason—the conflict arising from clashing personal interests stifled by obligatory loyalty provides rich subject matter, and a familiar backdrop for deep character exploration. An Error of the Moon plays with an interesting suggestion about the nature of the relationship between the brothers Booth—Edwin, made famous by the acting careers of himself and his father before him, and John Wilkes, made more famous by assassinating President Lincoln. Playwright Luigi Creatore's fictional speculation about the brothers offers a provocative and clever back story to the historic events we know them from.
The action of the play is set in Edwin's dressing room, and through a series of flashbacks we're exposed to Edwin's alcohol-fueled insanity which convinces him that his angelic wife, Mary, is sleeping with his brother, John. Mary dies from childbirth-related illness, and her voice in his deluded mind torments Edwin, who fears he may truly be the uncle of the child his wife left behind. The tensions of the Civil War play out in the background, occasionally brought to the audience's attention by Edwin and John's opposing opinions (Edwin supports Lincoln, and John stands staunchly on the side of the South). Ultimately Edwin, formerly the voice of reason dampening John's outlandish schemes, vengefully releases his hold on his brother's wild spirit, telling him to "Go with God" before sending him on his way to Ford's Theatre.
The beautiful Beckett Theatre provides a perfectly sized space for such an intimate view into Edwin's life. Steve Capone's dramatic and functional scenic design is impeccably executed, and flows seamlessly with the expert addition of projections designed by C. Andrew Bauer and sound designed by Christian Frederickson. The costumes, designed by Alixandra Gage Englund, are exquisite.
With one exception, I was unfortunately underwhelmed by the performances of the cast. Erik Heger's Edwin Booth never really left the page for me. Heger's strong voice carried some passages, but all too often I was left with an acute awareness that I was watching an actor recite lines on a stage. Margaret Copeland looks the part of the elegant Mary, but never truly seemed to connect with the other performers, even in her most emotional moments. Andrew Veenstra plays the part of the enthusiastic and headstrong younger brother with determination, at times without regard for what the moment dictates. I was distracted by a pronounced lack of investment and connection between actors and characters, and was disappointed to see moments of theme-playing rather than honest interactions. Brian Wallace's outstanding performance as The Player is to be commended—his acute physical and vocal ability allowed him to convincingly transition between distinct roles including a simple-minded follower of John, one of Lincoln's bodyguards, and an old actor-friend of Edwin. The success of character-driven small casts like this one rely on strong performances from each player to pull the weight of the show, and in this case, one actor's intermittent (albeit brilliant) appearances were not enough to keep the piece from stagnating.
Some of this is inevitably due to the structure of the play, where what seemed like an attempt at an escalating build resulted in motionless repetition. Actors faced additional hurdles in the form of a plot that establishes homeostasis, then leaps forward to a state of crisis, then stays put. An Error of the Moon paints an interesting and personal picture of historical figures, which makes it a heavily character-driven piece. When we already know how a story ends, the audience is especially dependent on the total commitment and character-development of the storytellers to keep us interested and involved; if they do not engage each other, then there is little chance they'll engage us.