"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night.
"The Seeds of Banquo" opened at Theater Red Thursday night. (Photo: Cassius Alexander Cox)

Love affair with long-dead man fuels Iannone's triumph

Angela Iannone, one of the finest actors ever to grace a stage in Milwaukee, has been engaged in a love affair for the past six years with a man who died when he was only 59 years old.

Not only that, but the man died in June 1893.

Edwin Booth was his name, the finest actor of his time, the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln and the object of desire for Iannone who has crafted a series of play about this lover -- "The Edwin Booth Cycle."

Watching the latest effort, "The Seeds of Banquo," opened at Soulstice Theatre by Theater Red Thursday night, made me wish that I loved somebody so much that I could write a play like this.

In 2009 Iannone was going to direct Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," a play she didn’t really care for. But she began her research and finally found the prompt book for the play that belonged to Booth. It was a detailed and sensitive and clear guide to how she could make the play work.

Then she saw a picture of the handsome actor and it was love at first sight.

She has steeped herself in the life of Booth and has found his strength and weaknesses and has let her love flourish in this smart and sensitive and very funny production.

The setting is a rehearsal of "Macbeth," of course starring Booth as Macbeth.

Booth, played by John Mundschau Glowacki, is in rehearsals with his friend and actor Lawrence Barrett played by Cory Jefferson Hagen, who is unsure of exactly what role or roles Booth has in mind for him.

Mrs. Elizabeth Bowers, played magnificent imperiousness by Marcee Doherty-Elst is Lady Macbeth and Mr. Owen Fawcett, played by Bryan Quinn, stumbles into the rehearsal and is handed many other roles.

The story ranges far and wide, always focused on Booth who has a severe ego, a sly sense of humor and an enraptured love of the details of a theatrical production.  There is a confluence of lives, both private and personal, each of which provides both joys and sorrows for this magnificent talent.

Like a Brando or James Dean, Booth is a man with almost unbounded talent but he has his devils and he struggles to both keep them at bay and to fuel his creative heart. Like all good stories about heroic men, this one has more than a bit of the eternal examination of what it means to be or to have a friend. The relationship between Booth and Barrett is a complex one with neither pleasures nor pains completely.

This production kicks off the 2015-16 theater season in Milwaukee and it has set a high bar for all that is to come.

Glowacki is perfect for Iannone’s Booth. He is gorgeous, but not in a conventional way. He resembles nothing so much as a sly and tortured nobleman for whom the ordinary is never good enough. He is pale and sinewy and is marvelously at home with the text, which Iannone has inventively mixed with common speech and the words of Shakespeare.

Doherty-Elst, Quinn and Hage each brings a special and very specific attitude to their characters. It is the skill of the playwright, who also directed this play, that the stage is populated by such a clear variety of people.

Sasha Katharine Sigel just about steals the show as Miss Minna Gale, a young actor who has an affair with Barrett in order to slide her way into the play with the man she idolizes. She is saucy and intemperate and the love scene between her and Booth is as full of sex appeal as anything you will ever see. There is no nudity and almost no physical contact.

The two of them look deeply into each other’s eyes, slightly parted lips separated by the space of a hummingbird’s wing and yet, they never touch. I felt myself wanting to scream "kiss her already. Kiss her."

If you tell someone that you are in love with a person who’s been dead for over a century, and if you really mean it, as Iannone does, there are those who might call  you crazy.

But art is often about being a little crazy and this production is theatrical art at its highest.

"The Seeds of Banquo" runs through next weekend and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.  

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