David H. Donald, noted biographer of Lincoln, relates that when he met John F. Kennedy in 1962, Kennedy voiced his deep dissatisfaction and resentment with historians who had rated some of his predecessors. Kennedy said, “No one has a right to grade a President—even poor James Buchanan—who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions.”
And yet, in effect, his very own rating in some ways rests upon the history that was created by those who chose to end his reign, the secrets and unanswered questions that still hover around his death and those who have since, risen up to deify a man who simply made “decisions” every day.
That being said, it is a curious thing to find myself having to “grade” as it were a play that actually takes on a great deal of the amassed and unadulterated conspiracy theories of this one monumental event, that changed the country and course of the United States of America forever.
Those who were living at that time will certainly have closer, more devastating perhaps even truer memories about the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our 35th President. Most of us of younger generations who were born shortly after and so forth have gone on to debate, theorize, fantasize and conceptualize, based on years of emerging evidence and fiction around the fatal shooting that took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC), in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas.
I read several of the other reviews of this play which previously debuted at Sacred Fools in April of 2012, sweet and bittersweet (courtesy of Bitter Lemons).
It is true that one could say, “maybe it’s too soon” to satirize the death of perhaps one of America’s dearest icons. But, The Magic Bullet Theory doesn’t actually do that.
I myself am not a conspiracy theorist. I’ve been in love, like most people, with the whole Camelot story; the man who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts close to my home city of downtown Boston and became even more famous for showcasing the youngest and possibly the most beloved First Lady America has ever had. Indeed a point in this entire melodrama that is continuously mentioned. (They might not have liked Jack, but Jackie, “oh!”) I’ve followed the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the lives of the late John Jr., of Caroline, of the late Robert, of the late Ted and so on.
But again, The Magic Bullet Theory doesn’t really talk about what happened prior to or much after. Instead, it blocks and weaves what ended up being noted as the (and possibly spurious) 169 deaths that resulted after the assassination. It’s not claiming a single thing. In fact, it is, in its intent, surreal, ridiculous and thoroughly irreverent…just not actually about the president. Although he does get to have his say at some point.
The Magic Bullet Theory explores the familiar players involved- -the mob, the CIA, the Cubans, JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Arlen Specter, Earl Warren and “The Texan” aka “The Hat,” an amalgamated character based on several historic people including LBJ and E. Howard Hunt. Then, there is Charlie Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s estranged father who died in prison in 2007 where he was serving two life terms for killing a Federal Judge.
It is actually, in a very perverse, hilarious way a story of failures. An action meant to bully our leader into towing the line [around his policies on Cuba] rather than killing him, but botched by stupidity, inaccuracy, anxiety, and bad decisions one after another and another and another.
The shooter was supposed to miss the president! Something went horribly wrong.
With all of the shenanigans and surreality that takes place in this production, the one thing above all I will say about it is that The Magic Bullet Theory is the straightest, “straight-shooting” (no pun intended) play I’ve seen this year. I never thought for a moment I was supposed to take it all seriously and I am pretty sure that is the point.
I was not bewildered by special effects. I wasn’t distracted by extraneous choreography. I did not have to over-think or understand the reasoning behind any of the dialog, the costumes, the sets, the stage directions.
There was a moment in the beginning where I thought that I wasn’t sure that this was all “ok.” The proverbial knot in my stomach felt like a warning sign that maybe laughing was a bit overboard. But as the story progressed I realized that the bulk of the production was as it read in the press release: a script that examines the event and how it affected those involved and the public on a surprisingly human level, albeit with the irreverent eye of a post-baby boomer, sans the Camelot haze.
There were a few times when I felt the lighting could have been adjusted to set the scene just a bit better, and in a second act bar scene a few of the characters started to remind me of the nonsensical “mechanicals” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I’ve decided to chalk it up to being part of the fact that really, none of it makes sense at all; therefore a very clever interlude in the script that is meant to lead one down a path, conspiracy style, to nowhere.
It is otherwise, a wonderfully conceived, written, acted and directed satirical lampoon.
Brilliant direction by JJ Mayes. Produced by Annette Fasone, Mike Schneider, Mandi Moss and Alex Zola with choreography by Natasha Norman.
Written by Terry Tocantins & Alex Zola
Terry Tocantins as Charlie
Cj Merriman as Marsha
Rick Steadman as The Texan
Bryan Krasner as Louie / Whykowski
KJ Middlebrooks as Frank / Sanchez
Vanessa Claire Stewart as Jackie
Eric Curts Johnson as JFK
Michael Holmes as Lee Harvey Oswald
Marz Richards as Jack Ruby
Leon Russom as Earl Warren
Victor Isaac as Arlen Specter
Lisa Anne Nicolai as Dorothy Kilgallen / Mary
Curt Bonnem as Lee Bowers / Zapruder / Gov. Connolly / Doctor / Zangretti/Chimpmunk
Monica Greene as Yalie #1
Will McMichael as Yalie #2