The world premiere of “The Edwin Booth Company Presents…” will take place at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Greenhill Center of the Arts on Nov. 29.
Junior Jacob Lesh will play the lead.
“It is so exciting to originate a character,” Lesh said. “Not a lot of actors our age have that privilege. Even a lot of professional actors go their whole life without ever originating a character. The script is getting a lot of national attention, and we haven’t even performed it yet. It’s beyond words to say how incredible this whole experience is.”
Lesh stars as Edwin Booth, the lesser-known brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth.
“Edwin Booth was known for being a fantastic actor,” Lesh said. “He’s credited as being the first actor to really bring forth naturalism onto the stage. He comes from this time period where there’s all this presentational acting, and he just kind of said, ‘Let’s throw that out the window and let’s do this natural form of acting instead.’”
Lesh did comprehensive research with the writer and director of the play, Whitewater Lecturer Angela Iannone, to try and better understand Booth.
“He really has a lot of credit to his name, but himself as a person, he’s a little more meek and shy,” Lesh said. “He really can’t express himself without use of the plays he’s in because he doesn’t know how to talk. Angela and I did extensive research and this is literally the guy who’s at the cast parties sitting in the corner all by himself because he can’t talk to other people. He’s just that nervous in social interactions.”
When asked to describe the play, Lesh had trouble summing it up in just a few words.
“Basically it’s about a man who is trying to fight to win the love of his life back while also dealing with his own self inflictions,” Lesh said. “He’s haunted by the memory of his lost father and is stressed over trying to make money for his company.”
The show may focus on Booth, but, as the title implies, his acting company plays a major role as well.
“It’s about his company members trying to put on this play and trying to be successful,” Lesh said. “When the leading lady falls ill, the only person who can take her place is Edwin Booth’s past love, Mary Devlin.”
Junior Ally Ruge plays Devlin, the strong willed female lead, opposite Booth.
Devlin is about 17 when this play takes place and she’s a love struck teenage.
“She’s very passionate in her views and wants to remain an actress, but Edwin wants her to give up that life because he doesn’t want to have to compete with her when they’re married,” Ruge said. “She’s very headstrong about her beliefs and part of the play is dealing with those issues between her and Edwin.”
Both Ruge and Lesh, along with the rest of the cast, have been rehearsing six days a week for the last month to ensure the play is tuned to perfection.
“I have a really good feeling that all of this hard work is going to pay off,” Lesh said. “I really think people are going to have a new perspective on the name of Booth.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but Lesh and company are giving it their all.
“It is a little bit difficult because we have a director who is also a professional actress,” Lesh said. “Angela is really good at what she does and she’s been working on this play for about three and a half years now. We don’t get her every day because she has to work from Wednesday to Friday. When she’s there on Monday and Tuesday, it’s extensive. We’ll be running things over and over again. There’s a lot of beautiful language in this play and it’s really important that we get every single word correct.”
The “Edwin Booth Company Presents…” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 and runs until Dec. 3 at the Barnett Theatre in the Center of the Arts.
Additional information can be found on the Department’s website at http://www.uww.edu/cac/theatre/.