by Angela Iannone
Notes on the Play
"This Prison Where I Live" is set in 1879, on the stage of the McVicker Theatre in Chicago, where Edwin Booth was performing in Shakespeare's "Richard II", a play he had performed briefly with Augustin Daly's company in New York in 1878. The play itself had not been performed in America since the time of Edwin's father, famed tragedian Junius Brutus Booth. It was an unpopular play, neither critics nor audiences liked Edwin in it, and no one liked him in a blonde wig, which he adopted to more realistically portray the blonde Richard Plantagenet. By this time in his life, Edwin is 10 years into his disastrous marriage to his second wife, Mary McVicker, whom he had met playing Romeo to her Juliet in 1868, at the McVicker. Mary McVicker struggled with addiction and mental illness throughout their marriage. She had bouts of calm and efficiency alternating with wild fits of rage and sorrow. They lost two children, the first in 1870. Their son Edgar, a large and healthy infant, proved too large for a normal birth, and his head was crushed during extraction. He lived 20 minutes. Mary was kept in a drugged coma for two weeks after his death, and never fully recovered. Edwin had the boy buried with his first wife. In late 1878 Mary McVicker and Edwin lost another child, this time there wasn't enough to bury. Edwin's first marriage, to his beloved Mary ( Mollie) Devlin, also an actress, and whom he had met when playing Romeo to her Juliet in the company of famed American icon Joseph Jefferson, had ended when she died of tuberculosis in 1863, shortly after the birth of their only child, Edwina. Two years later his adored younger brother John shot President Lincoln, and Edwin never spoke his brother's name again, nor allowed it to be spoken in his presence. Edwin spent eight months in seclusion, teetering on the edge of sanity and suicide before returning to the stage in another triumphal production of Hamlet. Hate letters continued to follow him throughout his career, but he had been forgiven. Or so it seemed. In 1879 a dry goods clerk named Mark Grey took aim at Edwin while he was onstage performing in Richard the Second and fired two shots, either of which should have killed the actor. For some reason Edwin, who never varied his blocking once he had set it, changed his position on the stage, and both bullets missed. Edwin would never speak of it afterwards, would never tell why he had moved or what had prompted him in that moment to rise and get out of the line of fire. He came out of the experience with a renewed sense of purpose. And he never performed Richard II again.
It has been seven years since my relationship with Edwin began and I am delighted to share my passion for him. Enjoy the show.
The first play of The Edwin Booth Trilogy, "The Edwin Booth Company Presents" was written for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Theatre Department. The production premiered in 2012 and went on to American College Theatre Festival honors in that same year. In 2013 "The Edwin Booth Company Presents" was produced by Titan Theatre Company as a staged reading at The Players in NYC, the home of Edwin Booth. The original production and the New York production featured the actor for whom the role of Edwin was written, Jake Lesh . The second play, "This Prison Where I Live" was originally workshopped at Door Shakespeare Company in 2012, given a staged reading by the same company in 2013 and produced Off Off Broadway by Titan Theatre Company in January of 2014 to critical and audience acclaim. The Off Off Broadway production featured the two actors for whom the roles of the Booth brothers were written, Reese Madigan as Edwin and Tristan Colton as John. The third play, "Irving & Booth in Othello" was workshopped at Door Shakespeare Company in 2013 and produced as a staged reading by G&M in Milwaukee that same year. Both featured the actor for whom the role of Henry Irving was written, Richard Ganoung. The staged reading also featured Simon Provan as Edwin.