Civil War buffs will be ecstatic to learn that the long lost Binjimmons brothers letters have finally been found! And, even more amazingly, they are getting a rare dramatic reading by two skilled actors at the Apollo Studio Theatre. But hurry: the letters will only be read until July 31!
Who are the Binjimmons brothers, you ask, and what are these letters? Well…they are the brainchildren of Joe Anderson and Demian Krentz, a comedic duo from Grand Rapids, Mich., who developed these letters out of a series of emails to each other. What started as an inside joke between the pair soon flourished into a bigger idea, and with the apparent urging of friends and family, they developed the imaginary correspondence between these two bumbling brothers into a two-act play.
Act one includes the letters — “Performed for the first time ever in chronological order!,” as we’re told by the over-enthusiastic curator, played by the pitch-perfect Mary McClenahan Fielding, who breathlessly kicks off the thing — written between 1864 and 1871. Chauncy Binjimmons (Anderson) has ended his service for the Confederacy and has decided to head west, while his brother Adam (Krentz) navigates the pressures of family life at their childhood home in Virginia. The banter between the two is daffy and amusingly authentic, and Anderson and Krentz brilliantly read the ridiculously florid prose with utmost seriousness. You learn their father has been missing for years and their mother is potentially crazy. Chauncy ends up in a hospital, which shares a wall with a brothel. Adam’s wife has twins, and one of them gets kidnapped by Indians.
Things go on like this until the letters abruptly stop and then pick back up five years later, where things have radically changed for the clueless duo. Apparently, these five years worth of letters have been lost, so it’s up to our imagination to fill in the gaps.
And just as the first act concludes — lo and behold! — a package has just arrived from the Smithsonian! It’s the long-lost letters! Act two becomes the first public reading — ever! — of this newly unearthed correspondence.
It’s a very clever way to shape this piece, which could easily become a creaky back-and-forth for two hours. I must admit, not being a Civil War or history buff, I found the thing merely a mild amusement. Anderson and Krentz obviously have a sharp eye for comedy, but I guess I simply wasn’t feeling it.
In a way, it reminded me of emails my friend Jamie and I used to write to each other over a period of a few years. As lovers of high camp, I’d pretend to be Helen Lawson from Valley of the Dolls, and she’d be Neely O’Hara. We even created dummy email accounts. (Don’t judge.) We’d carry on these ridiculous conversations that, to us, where piss-your-pants hilarious. But to anyone else? A head-scratcher.
Interestingly, I found the details of this production more hilarious than the the actual reading of the letters. For example, the show program is two-sided: one side for the show, the other side for the show-within-the-show letter reading exhibit. And check out the wry testimonial videos on the show’s website. Even the behind-the-scenes fiddle player (Kevin Madderson) provided a few delightful moments during intermission, where he slyly scratched out contemporary songs in an old-timey style.
So, while this wasn’t my cup of tea, I will say there were several people around me who were laughing so hard, I saw tears. So don’t take my word for it. I’ve always sucked at history, anyway.
“Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying!” plays through July 31 at the Apollo Studio Theatre. More information here >