There are plenty of shows in Spoleto with fancy sets, dazzling lighting set-ups and experiments in multimedia. But if you’re looking for unadulterated, no-frills theatre where there’s nothing to distract from the acting, then The Tragedian is a must-see.
Rodney Lee Rogers confidently embodies the spirit of 19th century Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, revisiting a sea change in acting styles. Edwin represented a shift from his father’s booming, postured work (the norm in his day) to a subtler, more natural way of performing. As Edwin attempted to escape his father’s shadow while upholding his legacy, he traveled the world: Australia, Hawaii, Britain and the U.S., touring his tragic Elizabethan heroes far and wide to great acclaim.
One hundred and fifty years later Edwin has been forgotten, overshadowed not by his father but by his brother — John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865. With the Booth family name besmirched, Edwin vowed to stop acting but returned to the profession within a year. Although he felt great guilt about what had happened, he was, in this and other major events of his life, at the mercy of cruel fate — a reactor instead of an actor.
Nevertheless, Edwin continued to tread the boards, following his passion for acting. Rogers, too, is instilled with this passion in his one-man show, sharing it with a small audience in the intimate setting of Lance Hall at the Circular Congregational Church. Wearing a gray-striped waistcoat, black pants, and a white shirt with tragically puffy sleeves, he patently enjoys breathing life back into the long forgotten theater star. He also creates a strong sense of the other people in Edwin’s life, from his baby daughter to his brother John. Many of the characters and situations are brought to vivid life by Rogers with the help of a red throw. The simple prop doubles as a cloak, a gypsy’s shawl, a toga, and several other visual aids.
Under the direction of Peter Karapetkov, Rogers performs with great confidence. He spins, writhes, climbs over, and crawls under a box frame, which with a little imagination transforms into a multitude of different places and objects just like the throw. Rogers, who also authored The Tragedian, helps audience members to understand the Shakespearean actor by the end of the
Only one part of the play will be confusing for those who don’t know their history — the story of John Brown’s hanging, an event which John Wilkes was present. That episode will be a blur of names without some background knowledge. And while the performer does a great job of maintaining pace, there are a few pauses that seem too short to allow all the information to sink in before Rogers darts off to the next major event in his character’s life.
Otherwise this is a great opportunity to watch an actor explore his craft in close quarters, and a chance to be enthralled by a mixture of 19th century acting, Shakespearean monologues and pure theatre.
The Tragedian • Piccolo Spoleto Theatre Series • $25 • 90 minutes • May 30-31, June 1 & 2 at 4 p.m. • Circular Congregational Church, Lance Hall, 150 Meeting St. • (888) 374-2656