Theater Review: The Actor And The Assassin at HART

Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Haywood Arts Regional Theatre executive director Steve Lloyd brings a nearly three-decade-long labor of love back to the stage. In the mid-’80s Lloyd wrote The Actor And The Assassin, a compelling two-character play about the infamous John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin (a famous 19th-century actor). Lloyd and his college roommate, Jerry Sipp toured with the production, portraying the brothers Booth. Now the play comes to stage with two new actors in the roles.

Ben Apple steps into Lloyd’s old role of Edwin, with the elegance and poise of the legendary Shakespearian entertainer he is portraying. Adam Kampouris gives a wily performance as John. Both Booths were actors, from a theatrical family. Edwin was more popular and more refined, but John gained fame in the South for his brashness. And it was the love and adoration from the South that led to his passionate loyalty to the Confederacy. Obsessed and driven by anger and resentment, John embarked on his fateful course.

Lloyd’s masterful script finds Edwin in his dressing room on the night he returns to the stage. It’s a year after John’s violent act. But as Edwin prepares to go before an audience again, the ghost of John shows up in his dressing room and begins to haunt him with their sins of the past. They debate, they drink, they rage and they even sword fight, as the history of the Booth family is laid bare. There is also an abundance of Shakespearian speeches that provide deeper emotional resonance. John, in his final moments, gives a unique version of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech.

Apple and Kampouris sink their acting teeth deep into this rich material. Lloyd, directing his own script, guides them without trying to recreate the performances of the past. The Actor And The Assassin traveled the world. It was performed for many students during the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s. I saw it at my high school in 1988, and later toured with Lloyd and Sipp as a young actor, accompanying them to Edinburgh, Scotland for the Festival Fringe in 1993. Needless to say, I know this show quite well. It was exhilarating and nostalgic seeing the show brought back to life.

Waynesville has the honor of being the location of the last shot fired east of the Mississippi River a month after the Civil War ended. The Actor And The Assassin kicks off a month-long celebration of the 150th anniversary. There will be a Tuesday, April 14 show on the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination. Tickets for that night only are half price.

The Actor And The Assassin runs through April 19, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. $11-$24

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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