Actors have place at the table at Booth home

June 09, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Actor Gary Sloan can think of only three families who qualify as acting dynasties: the Booths, the Barrymores and the Redgraves.

So he suggests it's more than merely notable that Lynn Redgrave is coming to Maryland this weekend to support efforts to restore Tudor Hall, the Harford County home of Junius Brutus Booth, patriarch of classical acting in America.

Was it, perhaps, pre-ordained?

After all, when Ms. Redgrave stepped inside the front door of Tudor Hall for the first time in April, she said, "I'm home," Dorothy Fox says. She and husband Howard run a bed-and-breakfast in the 145-year-old Booth family house near Bel Air, which they have been slowly rebuilding for 25 years, most recently with the help of theater-history buffs.

"What is certainly palpable is the feeling that classical actors get when they come here," says Mr. Sloan, a Washington-based actor who hopes to make Tudor Hall a spiritual retreat for actors in this country. He foresees an outdoor Shakespeare theater and other regular programs.

Ms. Redgrave and her husband, actor John Clark, and other performers and scholars are participating tomorrow in the 1995 Tudor Hall Conference: "The Discovered Country," an exploration Shakespearean tradition in America.

Symposium events take place at the 145-year-old Booth home in Churchville. Performers will do readings of Booth family letters at 8:30 p.m. in the Chesapeake Theater of Harford Community College in Bel Air. The events are sponsored by the nonprofit group Preservation Association of Tudor Hall Inc.

"Really, the state of Maryland should be paying attention to this place. It's very much regarded as the spiritual home of actors everywhere . . . a jewel of a place that's been largely ignored," says Mr. Clark over the telephone from California, recounting the visit he and Ms. Redgrave made to Tudor Hall in April.

Mr. Sloan saw a chance to persuade Ms. Redgrave to join the cause last spring. At a reception celebrating her election as the first actress to be president of the 108-year-old Players Club in New York, he approached Ms. Redgrave with a photograph of Tudor Hall and a proposal.

"I told her I would like to see a connection between Edwin Booth's club and his home," says Mr. Sloan. The Player's Club was founded by Edwin Booth, the son of Junius Brutus Booth, who became America's most prominent actor of the late 19th century.

Mr. Sloan suggests Edwin's motive in establishing the Player's Club -- to give respect to the acting profession -- might also have been to wash away the stain of John Wilkes Booth, another of Junius Booth's actor sons, now known to generations chiefly as Abraham Lincoln's assassin.

The politically motivated deed of John Wilkes Booth still poses problems for restorers, for many people remember Tudor Hall only as his birthplace, says Mr. Sloan. During early efforts at preservation, "some even compared it to restoring Hitler's bunker or Lee Harvey Oswald's home," Mr. Fox said in a 1993 interview.

"It's not that we try to avoid John Wilkes, but we want to put the whole family in perspective. The treasure here is the Booth legacy as a whole," says Mr. Sloan, adding, "The 'assassin's home' has never generated the kind of positive energy we need to save the house."

At their first meeting last year, Mr. Sloan says, Ms. Redgrave expressed interest in Tudor Hall. So Mr. Sloan arranged for her to visit the home in April, when she came to Washington to receive a Will Award from the Shakespeare Theatre for her play "Shakespeare for My Father."

Mr. Clark says his wife finds "rueful amusement" in suggested parallels between her own prominent acting family and the first family of American theater.

For example, he says, of Sir Michael Redgrave's other offspring, Vanessa "is, how should we say, the more politically active of the two." He is being diplomatic about his sister-in-law's well-publicized causes, from anti-Zionism to running for the English Parliament on the Trotsky platform.

Of Junius Booth's three sons -- Junius Jr., Edwin and John Wilkes -- the latter became notorious for his drastic political action. "Edwin was the good guy, you see," says Mr. Clark, leaving unspoken the implication that Lynn is the "good" Redgrave.

The amiable Englishman adds that Junius Booth's daughter, Asia, married a man named John Clarke, although he is no relation. "So," he says, "you see, I think there's almost a parallel link going on."

THE BOOTHS REVISITED

What: Tudor Hall Conference: "The Discovered Country"

When: Noon and 8:30 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Tudor Hall, Churchville, for daytime luncheon, symposium and actors' presentation; Chesapeake Theater of Harford Community College, Bel Air, for evening actors' presentation

Tickets: $50 for all events ($30 PATH members, $15 drama students 21 and under); $15 for evening actors' presentation only

$ Call: (410) 836-4211

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