My experience at Ford’s Theatre on 14th April, 1865 was one I shall not soon forget.
Shock. Women screaming. Tears streaming down people’s faces.
I cannot remember the last time I’ve laughed so hard at a play! Last Friday’s production of the delightful farce Our American Cousin had me and my fellow audience members in stitches, from the opening curtain right up until the moment when the president was brutally shot towards the end of act three.
Much has been written about Lincoln’s assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth. But I can assure you - every actor in that theater killed!
Leading man Harry Hawk had the line of the night when he referred to Mrs. Mountchessington as a “sockdologizing old man-trap” - which broke us up to no end. In theatre timing is everything, and Hawk’s perfect delivery of that line was matched only by Booth’s decision to shoot Lincoln just at that moment. Our loud, gunshot-masking peals of laughter went on for well over a minute! Just thinking about it now brings an irrepressible smile to my face.
Booth then leapt to the stage to make his escape, shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” which confused me, as I’d seen him in Julius Caesar two years prior and wondered what a Shakespearean character was doing in this modern production. Not that anything would have surprised me in this delicious farcical romp!
It was rumored that Booth’s jump from the presidential box caused him to break a leg. And what good company he was in! E.A. Emerson was absolutely riotous as the bumbling Lord Dundreary. And C. Byrnes as Captain de Boots had me rolling in the aisles. Many legs were broken on that stage, indeed!
Only Laura Keene as matriarch Florence Trenchard was the single weak link in the cast. I was heartily disappointed with her overly mannered, boorish performance. Other than that – a perfect evening.
Shortly thereafter we were informed that the president had been shot and that the show would not continue. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept openly. How could something so horrible happen on American soil, with no warning whatsoever? Not continue?! Whatever happened to “The show must go on”? Not seeing the end of this play was an unspeakable tragedy.
All in all, the sharp writing and nearly uniform great performances mark Our American Cousin as a fine theatrical affair. Four out of five stars, for the aforementioned Miss Keene and the president getting shot in the head.
- Thaddeus P. Willowsborough, Esq
Mike is an actor and comedian based in Los Angeles. Follow @mikeleffingwell on Twitter.