The playwright imagines the elder brother consumed with the irrational fantasy that his devoted wife, Mary, cheated on him with his younger brother. The imagined infidelity stops Edwin from talking the conspiracy-crazed John Wilkes out of killing the president and avenging the defeated Confederacy. The focus is on Edwin's Othello-like madness, which Creatore treats as a Jekyll-Hyde condition brought on first by alcohol and later by imagined visits from Mary's ghost (Mrs. Booth died relatively young). Edwin's fits of jealousy, particularly as delivered with almost hair-pulling overintensity by Erik Heger, come across as scenery chewing of the most voracious kind. When not foaming at the mouth, Heger is all grand gestures and "actorly" flourishes, with little subtextual realism.
The rest of the cast is hampered by the limitations of the script. Creatore sees John Wilkes as relatively sane—now there's a switch—and Andrew Veenstra complies by portraying the young actor as a noble rebel for the wrong cause. That is, until his last scene, when John Wilkes suddenly snaps his twig and becomes as raving a madman as his brother. The change seems to come out of nowhere, and Veenstra fails to make it convincing. Margaret Copeland does her best to bring life to long-suffering Mary, but the character spends most of the evening as a figment of her husband's imagination, a nearly impossible figure to make interesting or affecting.
In the multiple-part role of the Player, Brian Wallace subtly creates three distinct and identifiable people: a dimwitted associate of John Wilkes, a loyal friend of Edwin, and the bullying marshal assigned to protect Lincoln. His is the strongest performance; too bad it's in the most tangential role.
At least Kim Weild's direction is competent and the exemplary physical production offers something pleasant to look at. Steven Capone's "Twilight Zone" set, with its skewed perspective, ingeniously conveys the warped sensibilities of the characters. Alixandra Gage Englund's period costumes are handsome and detailed. C. Andrew Bauer's projections add an extra dimension of psychological depth that's missing from the play itself.
Presented by Theatre 21 and CRC Productions at the Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC. Opened Aug. 30 for an open run. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Tue., Aug. 31.) (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250, or www.telecharge.com. Casting by Pat McCorkle Casting.