Saturday, January 19, 2013

RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy

Photo credit:  Vintage Theatre
Playwright:  Jack Holmes.

VenueVintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, CO

CompanyVintage Theatre

Date of Performance:  Friday, January 18, 2013

Running Time:  2 hours, 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)

They say that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963.  I know I do. 

I was in Mrs. Muckenhirn’s 5th period sophomore English class at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin.  Just after 1:00, we got an announcement over the loudspeaker.  President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.  Classes were dismissed.  I remember getting my coat and waiting at the bus stop a block away at the corner of Regent and Allen Streets.  A light rain fell as I waited for the bus, trying to process the unthinkable reality of that day.

We all bring some baggage to the table when the subject is the Kennedys.  Love them or hate them; few are neutral.  Consider the above information to be my full disclosure.  RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is a history lesson for most, but for me, it’s reliving a reality.  My sophomore, but hopefully not sophomoric, reality may affect my review.  Take it for what its worth.

James O’Hagan-Murphy delivers an intense, personal RFK.  He walks about the small stage, recounting the learning experiences he endured from 1963 to 1968.  Many of those experiences were traumatic, including the assassination of his brother.  O’Hagan-Murphy’s one-man performance is inspired; he commands the stage as the Attorney General, as the junior Senator from New York, and as the candidate for President in 1968.  I knew RFK in these roles because I was a politically aware young adult at the time. 

What I didn’t know was RFK’s role as a husband, father, brother, and as a man.   It is those moments where O’Hagan-Murphy shines, reminding us that RFK was much more complex than the political images we remember.  He enjoyed football, his kids, meeting celebrities (yes…that includes Marilyn Monroe), and jumping into dangerous waters.  Literally.

O’Hagan-Murphy tells the story of RFK meeting a six year old girl in a dilapidated building in the Bronx.  He tries to connect with her, but she won’t meet his gaze.  O’Hagan-Murphy’s passionate portrayal of the incident elicits audible gasps from the audience as he tells the story.

Director Terry Dodd has used the small room to great advantage.  O’Hagan-Murphy moves constantly from stage left to stage right, telling stories, and making direct eye contact with each and every person in the audience.  You cannot avoid his eyes; he locks on to you.  Dodd and O’Hagan-Murphy have made the experience intensely intimate and personal. 

The blocking and lighting are magnificent; O’Hagan uses the entire stage, but every move appears natural.  Despite his apparent meandering about, he is never in the dark. 

The subtle but unmistakable truth sewn into the fabric of RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is that not very much has changed since 1968.  We are still a divided country, we still fight unjustified wars, and we still tolerate poverty and racism in the most affluent country in the world.  Whoever said “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it” was obviously right.  Unfortunately, it also seems true that knowing history does not cure our historical failures.

If I haven’t yet made myself clear, RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy is a total winner.  Perfectionists may quibble of the quality of O’Hagan-Murphy’s Boston accent, or over the somewhat humorless two hours of RFK as a ruthless practitioner of hardball politics.  I have no such reservations about this production.  It is engaging, enlightening, entertaining, emotional, and at times inspiring. 

Whatever your political persuasion, you will benefit from seeing RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy.  If you don’t care for Kennedy and his politics, you will still be impressed with his resilient personality and his undisputed accomplishments.  If you see the world as RFK did, you may be surprised to see his temper, his flaws, and his humanity.  He was not the idol on a pedestal that some mistook him for, nor was he a rich, isolated, liberal elite as his enemies believed.  The truth is somewhere in between.  

Vintage Theatre, James O’Hagan-Murphy, and Terry Dodd have given us a behind the scenes look at RFK, the ambitious but flawed man who didn’t get to finish his mission. 

We are left with the ultimately futile question of “what if RFK had not been cut down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968?”  Of course, we can’t know the answer.  “RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy” can only remind us of what might have been.  

That is an opportunity that no local theater fan should miss. 

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

“Some men see things the way they are and say, 'Why?'  I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?”

Robert F. Kennedy


Originally scheduled to run through January 27, RFK:  A Portrait of Robert Kennedy has been extended through February 24, 2013.  Purchase tickets here.

Director:  Terry Dodd

Sound Designer:  Luke Terry

Lighting Designer:  Luke Slotwinski

Set Designer:  Terry Dodd/David LaFont


Robert F. Kennedy:  James O’Hagan-Murphy

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