Many Milwaukee theatregoers have seen Angela Iannone act on local stages over the years. She is a talented, passionate, and consummate artist. And she brings those same qualities to her playwriting. Theatre Red’s production of her play, "This Prison Where I Live," is currently on stage at the theatre space in the Big Red Church on 10th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
This play is one of four that she's written about the great American actor Edwin Booth. Booth was one of the greatest actors of the 19th century and was immensely popular. He was also the brother of the more infamous John Wilkes Booth. After the assassination of President Lincoln and the subsequent death of John, Edwin Booth spent the rest of his life haunted by his brother’s actions, even as his own fame was undiminished.
"Edwin was famous and infamous, for once he set the stage blocking, he never changed it. No matter how many years he played the role, the blocking was the same," Iannone explains.
But one day, while performing a play that he'd performed many times before, the great actor nearly avoids death by assassin with a split-second, very uncharacteristic change of blocking.
"He would never talk about why he moved. He would never explain it," she says. "This play is about why Edwin moved."
But more than explain one moment in an actor's life, the play uses Booth's life and the era in which he lived to explore the world today.
"The 19th century is more like us than unlike us," Iannone says. "All of the same issues that we are exploring right now we were exploring in the 1800s."
She's using Edwin Booth to help explore social issues, art, identity, gender and race.
"I'm slipping into that skin and I'm looking at the historical facts of his life and the people that he knew and finding ways to have conversations that interest me about all of those things," Iannone says.