By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Victorian Players will launch a trilogy of plays about the assassination of presidents when “Finale” opens Friday.
“Finale,” presented in association with J&B Production Arts Services, takes a hard look at the family of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln.
The Victorian and J&B also will present “Sparky ... from Chicago” in July and “Specter of Treason — The Oswald Trial” in November. “Sparky” is about Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald.
J.E. Ballantyne Jr. is directing each of the plays, a trilogy centered on the Kennedy assassination, which marks its 50th anniversary in November.
Although “Finale” has nothing to do with Kennedy, it is included in the trilogy because of the coincidental similarities surrounding the assassinations of both presidents, said Ballantyne.
In “Finale,” Edwin Booth — brother of the assassin — goes into the basement of the Booth Theatre in New York in 1873 just after his brother’s storage trunk has been returned to him by the U.S. government.
While in the basement of the theater that his family owned, Edwin is soon joined by his deceased relatives, including his infamous brother, to rectify family problems that were never put to rest during their lifetimes. These include the biggest question: Why did John kill the president and shame their family for all time?
Written by Ira David Wood III, “Finale” stays true to the facts about the Booth family. It provides a history lesson in the form of a close look at John Wilkes Booth.
The cast includes Glenn Stevens, a newsman with 21 WFMJ-TV, as Junius Brutus Booth; Brady Flamino as Edwin Booth; Jim Canacci as John Wilkes Booth; Barbara Malizia as Mary Ann Booth; WFMJ cooking segment host Regina Reynolds as Asia Booth; Roz Blystone as Mary Devlin; Hunter Thomas as Garrie Davidson; and Tom O’Donnell as Abraham Lincoln.
The assassination trilogy continues a string of historical dramas directed by Ballantyne at the Victorian. In previous years, Ballantye wrote and directed “Block 5” (2009), “A Light in the Darkness” (2011), and “Dog Days” (2012). All are set in World War II, with the first two examining the Holocaust.
“I don’t know why I have gravitated [toward historical dramas], but I have,” said Ballantyne. “I am just fascinated by it.”
Audiences will get in on the act for “Specter of Treason” when that play opens later this year. “Specter” presents a fictional trial of Oswald, and the audience votes as the jury to determine its verdict. There are four possible endings, said Ballantyne.
Earlier this week, Ballantyne learned that Cyril Wecht, the nationally known forensic science expert from Pittsburgh, accepted his invitation to take part in a post-show seminar after “Specter” on the killing of Kennedy.
“[Wecht] is an outspoken critic of the Warren commission,” said Ballantyne.
The Warren commission, which was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, investigated the Kennedy assassination. Its lengthy report concluded that Oswald acted alone.