Hartford Stage. Directed by Amy Morton
A two-man show requiring virtuosic performances from both actors. We get those performances, from K. Todd Freeman as Booth and David Rainey as Lincoln. The play is not as tightly written as it might be; the arc of development is not quite so clear as one might have wished. Still, the play has great power and is compelling in performance. Huge energies are required of the actors over the virtually full two-and-a-half hours. And even though you know pretty much what’s coming, in this tension-filled play by Susan-Lori Parks, it’s still a shock when “Booth,” in a grotesque reenactment of the famous historical assassination, kills “Lincoln.” There is nothing heroic about this action; in fact, it is if anything anti-heroic.
Yet there is a genuine tragic element here, in an outcome full of loss and waste. The intermittent narrative of the two men’s parents, who are initially idealized as achieving the American dream of a “house” and “meals on the table,” at length reveals the sad, sordid reality of the match, full of adultery and abandonment. Each brother receives a “legacy” of five hundred dollars from one parent or the other; but Lincoln wastes his, and Booth, after hoarding it carefully for some years, loses it to Lincoln in a “for real” game of three-card Monte. This loss sets up the angry confrontation between Lincoln and Booth, who feels he has been marked by his older brother and takes vengeance by shooting him. Hence, the wry, bitter, self-destructive legacy inherited by these two black men, who exist largely as mocking, negative avatars of the great, heroic assassination that comes down to us as one of the central myths of America. The irony is meant to be deep and palpable, and it is.