frank langella,booth,theatreBOOTH


York Theatre Company

January 12 – February 13, 1994

WRITTEN BY: Austin Pendleton

DIRECTED BY: David Schweizer


Frank Langella – Junius
Garret Dillahunt – Edwin
Frances Conroy – Mary Ann
Alexander Enberg – Johnny
Joyce Ebert – Mrs. Hill
Paul Schmidt – Mr. Page
Jan Munroe – Baxter
Molly Regan – Adelaide


Although Mr. Pendleton’s uneven script has endowed Junius with all the traits common to fictional portrayals of narcissistic scenery chewers — overweening vanity, mesmerizing charm, territorial paranoia and blazing physical energy — they are here pushed firmly over the edge of madness. This is a man, after all, who once played Othello naked and came close to smothering Desdemona in the bedroom scene.

Correspondingly, as Mr. Langella embodies him, Junius cannot hold a whisky bottle without its contents seeming to bubble out of it volcanically, as if charged by the force of the hands holding it. And when Junius hugs his teen-age son, Edwin (Garret Dillahunt), the embrace turns seamlessly into a deadly stranglehold.

A particular strength of Mr. Langella’s performance and Mr. Pendleton’s script is that they are able to suggest both Junius’s uncontrollable compulsions and an abiding melancholy awareness of their effects. When, in the play’s first scene, it is decided that Edwin will accompany his father on a tour as a dresser, Junius warns him that he will destroy him on the road. And at a later point, he tells him: “The worst has happened. I have fascinated you.” In this case, self-knowledge is in no way redemptive. (…)

The play, on which Mr. Pendleton has been working for literally decades, was inspired by the real-life history of the Booth family. Junius Booth, a British actor who appeared with (and felt humiliatingly overshadowed by) Edmund Keane in London, immigrated to America, leaving his wife and young son behind. In this country, he took a mistress by whom he fathered many children (only two of whom, Edwin and John Wilkes — who would later become the assassin of Abraham Lincoln — are represented here). And he made a career of bringing Shakespeare to the still largely rustic new nation. While alternately dazzling and contemptuously attacking his audiences in manic outbursts, he always kept, as Edwin finally tells him in disgust, “your actors backstage, your wife in London and the mother of your children in the backwoods.”

For much of the play’s first half, it comes across as a dark-edged, often-witty celebration of the thespian’s disjointed world, a sort of historical variation on David Mamet’s “Life in the Theater,” with a neophyte on the road learning from an eccentric seasoned ham. In these sections, for all of Junius’s violent extravagance, he seems like a cousin to the alcoholic swashbuckler portrayed by Peter O’Toole in “My Favorite Year,” who charms more than he alarms us. “Sit still, idiots!” Junius is heard yelling at the audience. “In five minutes, I’ll give you the damnedest Richard you’ve ever seen.” [NY Times]


I was sent to coach an actor once who was up for a big role in one of my plays for his audition. Garret Dillahunt is his name. He’s acted at Steppenwolf, and in fact all over the place, in New York theatre in television and movies. At this time I didn’t know him, but I came to like him instantly when he agreed with me there was no point in doing a coaching session (he got the part) and that maybe it would be more fun if we talked about books. At which point he gave his copy of Suttree, by Cormac Mccarthy. When we were in rehearsal he gave me Blood Meridian. [Austin Pendleton at, May 2006]