“Jackie Unveiled” — Extended at the Wallis

by Ernest Kearney — A long recording of Bobby Kennedy on that final day in Los Angeles that ended in the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel sets the stage.

Framed in the doorway of a darkened New York apartment, an adumbrated figure is encased in smoke.

If there was the stench of brimstone you could assumed the figure was emerging from hell.

Perhaps they are.

This is playwright Tom Dugan’s elegant and evocative opening to his one-woman show on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie Unveiled.

Throughout the first act, set in the first week of June, 1968, Jackie (Saffron Burrows) is in fear of answering the phone.    She has watched the television.  She has heard the tragic news.   She has sent a glass through the screen.   Now she teeters on the edge.

Dugan has certainly presented a Jackie O that few ever knew existed.    From Burrows’ entrance we learn a well-kept secret that —like former President Obama— Jackie was a “closeted” heavy smoker.  Then follows the hints of incest, an abusive mother, infidelities, “Papa Joe”; stripping away the iconic Jackie with whom we are so at ease; until we are left with a sobbing very frightened woman on the verge of suicide who seems less a character out of Camelot than from Game of Thrones.  

Dugan fashions the first act as Jackie’s confession to the audience.

She can’t protect herself or her children from herself.   There seems only one solution, and she has both the pills and booze to achieve it.   At the end of the first act, another solution occurs to Jackie, and this one just requires a phone call to Greece.

The second act is set in the same apartment.  Jackie is now 64 and, in a clever enough flip from the first act, she is now waiting for a call that won’t come.

This one is from her doctor; hopefully bearing the news that she is cancer free.

This is an altogether stronger Jackie.  She has survived Dallas, she has survived Onassis.   Life, however, no one survives.

Dugan and Burrows, presents a Jackie that will captivate audiences.   Dugan’s overall research seems strong, and the revelations he brings will surely stun most.   There were two moments in the evening where a loud involuntary gasp was wrenched from the audience.

One was Jackie’s explaining why she hated male doctors.  (spoiler alert here) Attributing all of her difficulties in child bearing – one miscarriage, one stillborn and a son that died soon after delivery – all of which had been blamed on her, to the chlamydia she had contracted off of Jack.

Dugan claims what drew him to write this was the idea of a woman on the cusp of history, half-in and half-out of her progress towards modernity.   Also, he points to the current assault on all that women have achieved which we are witnessing daily about us.

Dugan’s play is undeniably fascinating.   Jenny Sullivan’s direction on a beautifully realized set by Francois-Pierre Couture is the epitome of skilled craftsmanship.   And Burrows’ performance of this woman of such fragileness is rock solid.

It is the convention itself that seems to be at odds with itself.   It feels as if Martha is addressing the stage from Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

The strongest segment of the piece, and oddly the one with the most historical errors, is when Jackie recounts Dallas and her husband’s murder at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. Gold Trophy  Here Dugan and director Jenny Sullivan, with Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting-scape and Randall Robert Tico’s sound design, guide us through a nightmarish waltz of memory to great effect.

Still, the merits of the play are many, especially the opportunity of discovering, “Jackie we hardly knew ye.”

♦    ♦    ♦

Gold Trophy I hate having to restate this, but for clarity’s sake: “Oswald, only Oswald, nobody else at all but Oswald.”   See my review of the films Parkland vs. JFK for a fuller debate.

(NOTE:  Pictured: Saffron Burrows. Photo credit: Kevin Parry)

Jackie Unveiled
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Lovelace Studio Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

For Tickets and Information
Online – TheWallis.org/Jackie
By Phone – 310.746.4000
Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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