Monday, October 10, 2016

THE TRAGEDY OF JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) Conceived, Adapted & Directed by DANIEL HENNING

Chad Brannon (at coffin) and the cast of The Blank Theatre’s world premiere production of THE TRAGEDY OF JFK (AS TOLD BY WM. SHAKESPEARE) Photo credit Rick Baumgartner

Daniel Henning has been making theatre in Los Angeles for many years.  I first met him when The Blank Theatre Company had applied for funding from the California Arts Commission and it was my job to evaluate the work I saw in The Lost Studios over on La Brea.  For twenty years or so, Daniel has been working on the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Even though he was not even born in 1963, he has done extensive research and is considered an authority on the subject.

As the fifty-third anniversary of one of the most memorable and horrific tragedies in American History advances upon us, the memory of that day is indelible.  Henning does his best to create the language of The Bard which sometimes flows less trippingly on the tongues of the Kennedy brothers (Ford Austin as JFK and Chad Brannon as RFK) than it does from the main characters: J. Edgar Hoover (Firey Tony Abatemarco) and Lyndon B. Johnson (Bombastic Time Winters).  Winters nails the look and bombast of the 36th President combining his Texas twang with the rhythms of Henning's verse.   

The chilling exposition reveals that JFK not only ignored the prophesy of his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln (Kelie McIver), but also a bloody dream by Jacqueline (Casey McKinnon) goes begging as LBJ coaxes Kennedy to visit Dallas on that fateful Friday.  
Projections recall not only the President's murder as captured by the Zapruder film, but we move forward to the killings of both RFK and Martin Luther King. 

Shades of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar creep in as Bobby Kennedy, taking a cue from Mark Antony in his well known speech from "Julius Ceasar"  belies his brother and praises Johnson.   

Wordplay and excellent exchanges, especially between Hoover and LBJ erupt as history has shown us that Hoover, who hated and harassed the Kennedys, abused his office. The power wielded by Hoover even with threats of suicide, were manic and borderline psychotic. Abatemarco finds the fine line between chewing the scenery and projecting the mania that must have haunted Mr. Hoover.

Sydney Russell's bare bones set allows the story to unfold pretty much unhampered.  Problematic, though, is the representation of the Dealy Plaza pergola with openings all along the back of the stage which interferes with informative projections.  There are many missed opportunities for images that could be seen projected over the actors on stage. Seeing the Zapruder film still dredges up questions and deep feelings

Going beyond the murder of the President, the text takes us to the March on Birmingham with images of the brutality suffered by Freedom Marchers and Martin Luther King's influence that blossomed to help create the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We then moves briefly forward to 1968 and The Ambassador Hotel with Bobby Kennedy announcing his presidential candidacy.  Actual footage of the kitchen where he died is projected as well.  

Henning's research and declarations refute the Warren Commission Report. Jackie reportedly agreed with the Report while Bobby did not. Lee Harvey Oswald (Brian Brennan) declares to the audience that a paraffin test revealed that Oswald had no gunshot residue on hands when he was captured. There is no mention of the Grassy Knoll nor the 'bums' with new leather shoes,  but Texas Governor John Connally's (Jonathon Lamer) wounds by a single bullet are brought into question.  

Over all the direction of his own writing works for Henning though the Shakespearean language attempt fluctuates from character to character and expected strong stage presences lapse from time to time to a more natural presentation.  The revelation that the disgruntled Army General Edwin Walker (over the top Jonny Walker) actually distributed flyers calling JFK a traitor to the assembled Texans on that fateful day adds to the drama as well as the revelation (according to Henning) of a cabal assembled to do away with the President.  
Over all the large cast of seventeen with much doubling, brings the story to life. 

(as told by Wm. Shakespeare)
Conceived, Adapted and Directed by Daniel Henning
Presented by The Blank Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, California
October 1November 6, 2016
Friday at 8:30pm / Saturday at 8pm / Sunday at 2pm
Tickets and Informaton: 
(323) 661-9827 

No comments:

Post a Comment