The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) is cleverly conceived, beautifully acted and stylishly staged. (If this review is used by the producers in their press releases it’s this point at which they’ll stop.) It is also bull s**t of the highest order.
What adapter and director Daniel Henning has done, and done quite well, is to have taken Bill Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar and transposed it over the events of November 1963.
JFK is fitted out as Julius Caesar, LBJ as a Stetson wearing Marcus Brutus, Bobbie is Mark Antony with a Boston twang, J. Edgar Hoover is portrayed as a closeted Cassius, Jackie as Calpurnia – and you get the idea. To his credit, Henning does a first rate job in concocting his literary hybrid and an even better job in staging it.
As the founder of The Blank Theatre, Henning has a solid standing in the Los Angeles theatre community and has apparently pulled in all his big acting guns for this premiere staging because the cast is a true gem across the board featuring a roster of some of the city’s top artists.
It’s no small tribute be a standout in this cast, and standouts there are.
Ford Austin and Chad Brannon as John and Bobby Kennedy respectively, both lack the advantage of physical resemblance but overcome that with the conviction and immediacy they bring to their roles, and Brannon, in Henning’s take on Antony’s funeral oration is the high point of the evening.
Tony Abatemarco as Hoover/Cassius fills every moment with the same potency of presence that made him so supremely watchable in the International Center Theatre’s production of Walk in the Woods.
Mention must be made of Jacob Sidney’s praiseworthy turn as McGeorge Bundy, while Kelie McIver and Susan Denakeras Evelyn Lincoln and Lady Bird Johnson makes one wish they had more stage time, but the blame for that falls on Shakespeare*.
However, the standout from the standouts in a cast of stand outs is Time Winters as LBJ/Brutus. His nuanced performance surfeit with the mannerism of the larger than life Johnson gives ample evidence as to why he is so lauded among his peers.
If you want to see a beautifully staged work of theatre with a stellar cast, well here’s the show for you.
If, however, you want to see a play of historical validity avoid this one like the plague.
Who killed JFK?
Nobody else but Oswald.
Henning presents himself in the program as an “expert on the JFK assassination” and that he is not. He is well versed in the Mythos of the assassination, may even be an expert on the subject, but that is a far cry from “history.”
The show begins with a presentation of the “Dramatis Personae” as each of the characters converges on stage, into a kind of Greek Chorus-chorus line, and identifies themselves with a snippet of background information.
It’s here where Henning’s errors and oversights begin.
He has Lady Bird describing herself as coming from a wealthy family who owns newspapers and radio stations. True, she did come from a wealthy family, but her father Thomas Jefferson Taylor made his money from land, cotton and retail merchandising. They had no newspapers or radio stations.
In 1943, Johnson, then a congressman, bought under Ladybird’s name his first radio station, KTBC. More radios and TV stations followed all placed under Ladybird’s name.
This is a stunning error for Henning to make as he claims to have been inspired by Robert Caro’s monumental 3 volume LBJ bio to write this play. And Caro, after 36 years of intense research into Lyndon Johnson, stated he found no indication whatsoever of an assassination plot.
Also in the opening, Henning has John Connelly, the Governor of Texas who was wounded while riding in the same limo as Kennedy, state he was “convinced beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet,” the so-called “magic bullet”**.
Here Henning is guilty of cherry picking his history.
What Connelly told the press in 1966 was, “I am convinced beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet, but just because I disagree with the Warren Commission on this one finding does not mean I disagree with their over-all findings.”
In 1971, President Richard Nixon would appoint Connelly as Treasury Secretary.
While serving in that capacity, Connelly used his position to gain access to restricted material on the assassination. His intention, he told his close associates, was to find out who “really” tried to murder him.
After two years of poking through the classified material Connelly acknowledged Oswald acted alone.
Holding the opinion I do, once made me “a voice in the wilderness.”
Nowadays it’s grown to a “chorus from the wilderness.”
Interestingly, nearly everybody who knew Lee Harvey Oswald did not doubt it was him who shot JFK. This includes Donald P. Bellisario—who served with Oswald in the Army and would go on to create the NBC Sci-Fi series Quantum Leap—to Lee’s older brother Robert Oswald.
There is not a single historical scholar who believes it was not Oswald’s hand that pulled the trigger in Dallas.
In 1986 Vincent Bugliosi, (the man who prosecuted Charlie Manson, and is the author of such works as The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder and The Betrayal of America about the Supreme Court decision in the 2000 election) began a thorough investigation of the assassination.
Bugliosi was determined to prove who Kennedy’s murderer was.
After 21 years he published Reclaiming History; a massive work of 1612 pages that came with a CD/ROM consisting of an additional 954 pages of notes. ***
Nobody else but Oswald.
Those who hold with the JFK Conspiracies Theories are slowly falling into the ranks of Holocaust Deniers, Obama Birthers and 9-11 Truthers.
Finally, it is only fitting that we give Shakespeare the last word, from Hamlet Act I, Scene II:
Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.
After a half century it should be obvious to anyone that as far as the Kennedy Assassination goes, the “foul deed” hasn’t arose because it’s always been right there in front of our noses.
Nobody else but Oswald.
*If we designate Ariel as “female,” then The Tempest, Henry IV part 1 and Julius Caesar are the Shakespearian plays with the fewest female roles at 2 each. But, with the role of Portia, Brutus’ wife, consisting of only 92 lines and that of Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, a mere 27 Julius Caesar is arguably the Bard’s most testosterone soaked play.
** Which is only “magical” to those having no experience with firearms, if you want an education in what bullets do once fired, I recommend you watch The Magic Bullet, Episode 2 from the first season of Forensic Files. Available on YouTube.
*** Peter Landesman’s brilliant film Parkland (2013) is based on Bugliosi’s writings. You can read my review comparing Parkland and Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) HERE, on this site.
Pictured Above in Featured Image: Tony Abatemarco as J. Edgar Hoover, Time Winters as LBJ – President Johnson (Photo by Rick Baumgartner)
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The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare)
plays Fridays – 8:30pm
Saturdays – 8:00pm
Sundays – 2:00pm
and has been extended to November 20
at The Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, 90027
For Tickets and Additional info
Go to: www.TheBlank.com
Or call: (323) 661-9827