Goins, a theater artist who is increasingly visible in the region and an imposing actor, plays Lincoln — a man with a past as a skilled three-card monte dealer on the streets, where the gambling slight-of-hand has apparently caused the murder of one of his cohorts. He’s left the game and taken a job with benefits as the human target in a shooting gallery, dressed in a top-hat, fake beard and whiteface so he can be Abraham Lincoln and people can pretend to be John Wilkes Booth as they fire cap guns at him. Consider for a few seconds the tangle of metaphors in that setup.
His brother, named Booth, is played by Slocum. Booth wants so badly to be a three-card-monte dealer, it hurts. But he shows no aptitude for moving the cards around in the flash it takes to confuse a patsy. So he lives, day to day, in a world of lies, inside a broken down apartment with no running water, no bathroom and no sink, which he temporarily shares with his bro. (The aptly grungy set is by Britt Plunkett.)
Goins — whose GoKash Productions is responsible for the show — is wonderfully nuanced in a role that demands it; his Lincoln is, after all, caught in traps — a humiliating regular job after a former street life of plenty, plus the apartment he shares with a volatile, do-nothing brother. Slocum is an excellent match in talent, delivering a kinetic Booth whose volatile disposition flip-flops with his empty cockiness.
Together, they give the play an essence I never before discerned. And watching them provide it so naturally is a substantial part of the satisfaction.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Through June 17 at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $25. Information: www.gokashproductions.com.