Immersing a historical event with "rich, human emotion," Emily McClain is excited "My Brother's Secret Keeper" will be featured in the Pumphouse Players' Local Playwright Series Jan. 18.
"I have been fascinated with the life and career of Edwin Booth for a really long time," said the Lawrenceville playwright. "There is a portrait of him hanging in the lobby of the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, commemorating a performance he did while on a national tour in the late 1800s.
"He was a huge celebrity but his whole life was overshadowed by the horrific act of his younger brother on President Lincoln. I am very interested in the ways that the private lives of people from history could have impacted larger historical events. Not to oversimplify the situation, but part of my play is about answering the question, ‘If John Wilkes had a better relationship with his brothers would he have been radicalized in the way he was?’”
With John Wilkes Booth's family taking center stage, PHP President Laurel Ann Lowe shared the production's focus is "fascinating."
"While most people know that he was the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, it is not well known that Booth and two of his brothers were actors, following in their father's footsteps," Lowe said. "McClain has smartly focused on Booth's actor brothers and their sister, Asia, detailing the impact of the assassination on their family, and the events that led up to it.
"History and biography lovers will especially enjoy McClain's dramatized account of events, grounding such an infamous historical event in rich, human emotion. McClain brings the Booth family to life in a way that history books will be hard-pressed to match."
Starting at 8 p.m., the staged reading of McClain's "My Brother's Secret Keeper" will be performed at The Legion Theatre, 114 W. Main St. in Cartersville.
“The final scene of the play takes place after the assassination of Lincoln and the weeks-long manhunt that resulted in the death of John Wilkes in a barn,” McClain said. “Junius, Asia and Edwin are in Edwin's New York townhome, struggling to understand how they missed the warning signs of their brother's radicalization. There is blame and accusations of people keeping secrets and protecting Johnny, of what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. The aftermath of the national tragedy comes to further damage the broken Booth family and leaves them facing an uncertain future.
"My main goal for the reading is to see how the pieces of the play flow together, and to make sure that even though the audience ‘knows’ the end of the story — John Wilkes shoots Lincoln and then is ultimately shot himself — they are invested in the characters and care about the steps in the journey to get to that conclusion."
Under the direction of Dave Boggess, the staged reading will feature Keith Brooks as Johnny Booth, Paul McClain as Junius Booth, Barry King as Edwin Booth and Stacy King as Asia Booth.
"We began the PHP Local Playwright Series last season (2018-2019) with three staged readings," Lowe said. "Our staged readings create an opportunity for playwrights to hear how directors and actors interpret their scripts. The playwrights take notes and use audience feedback to determine where changes are needed or would be helpful when editing their plays to get them ready for performance or publication.
"... During the staged readings, actors perform primarily with their voice and general body language. Without the addition of sets, costumes, props, etc., our playwrights can hone in on the written language and see where edits can be made to strengthen their work."
As Lowe noted, PHP's Local Playwright Series kicked off in November 2018 with PHP Member-at-Large Karen Ruetz's "For a Good Time … Mary?" comedy.
Since the beginning of the Local Playwright Series program, we have featured five plays by four local playwrights, including comedies, dramas and one campy Halloween horror-comedy," Lowe said. "Audiences, actors and playwrights alike have shared that they have truly enjoyed the development process.
"Our audiences get to be among the first to hear and experience a brand new piece of work, our actors have enjoyed developing different characters than they might normally get to play, and playwrights are able to ask questions and get feedback from their audience. So far, two of our featured plays have gone on to have additional performances at other theaters following their readings at Pumphouse."
Still accepting scripts for the series, the PHP encourages playwrights to send their submissions to email@example.com.
"Pumphouse is very proud to present these local playwrights' work, because we see it as a service to the greater arts community," Lowe said. "We feel that the more we do to lift the emerging and established artists, the better off our community is as a whole. We have found that there is a real need for more play development opportunities, and we are happy to be a part of bringing new plays to life and filling that need in our metro Atlanta community."
Tickets for the reading of "My Brother's Secret Keeper" — ranging from a $5 to $50 donation per person — can be obtained online at www.pumphouseplayers.com.