Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Featuring: David Arrow
Directed by: Randall King
When: September 30 - October 25, 2015. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: San Jose Stage Company, 490 South First Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $30-$65 (discounts available). Call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org
of a powerful politician
a charismatic leader and the turbulent 1960s
"The Gross National Product can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." So said Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, also known as RFK, in March 1968, in a speech at the University of Kansas.
Idealist, or realist? Catholic, minority-loving, union-backing socialist, or a man who saw the deep rifts in the fabric of American society and sought to heal them? San Jose’s The Stage’s production of Jack Holmes’ one-man show "RFK," starring David Arrow, is a taut political drama which weaves the personal ambitions and life of JFK’s younger brother with his political aspirations.
We see him breaking the direct line that J. Edgar Hoover had to the White House, insisting that he report through him. And we see him turning down the vice-presidential nomination that President Lyndon Baines Johnson offers him, as he starts his run at a second term in office. The play really takes us into the mind of the man, and shows what he was, or at least might have been thinking.
Arrow captures Kennedy’s mannerisms the disarming smile, the hand brushing back the lock of hair that falls over his face and makes us feel we are in the presence of the man himself, let alone the events of the time. Randall King’s direction, starting with screened flashbacks to Vietnam, the Civil Rights marches and riots, all to the accompaniment of Bob Dylan’s lines "Darkness at the break of noon. Shadows even the silver spoon," from "It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)."
Dark days indeed, which required a new generation of politicians, who, like Bobby’s brother Jack, had actually been born in the 20th century.
The set for RFK is minimal. An armchair, a desk, a table. But Arrow uses them all, bouncing from one to another while he talks about how they should never have trusted the military after the Bay of Pigs, and yet LBJ was going ahead with a "limited bombing" of Vietnam. It sounded like the start of another foreign policy disaster to Bobby.
He talks about the new rock music, and the armchair is littered with albums from Hendrix, Dylan, Woodstock, Credence Clearwater Revival. Then comes the Tet offensive, when the American forces and their allies thought the enemy would be resting during the holiday. Caught completely off guard, the American people finally started to realize that the war was unwinnable.
Being a Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy was brought up in a privileged family environment. Never that good at school, he thought he could win people over with his charm, which he usually did. Arrow takes us to Bobby’s Senate run in 1964, when he campaigned in New York. "How can you forget the kid that delivered newspapers from a limousine?" he asks.
Kennedy attracted the moniker "ruthless" for his vendetta against Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters union and his rooting out of corruption and organized crime. "People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him."
Delivering a one-man show is never easy. But King’s direction keeps the audience fully engaged with content, movement, lighting, and imagination, and Arrow’s portrayal of RFK is spot-on. David Murakami’s screen projections capture the events of the day and transport us back to the turbulent '60s, when, as Dylan sang, "The times, they are a-changing."
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at email@example.com