Whether Film or Theater “Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade” at Playhouse on Park Brings Back History

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David Arrow as Bobby Kennedy. Photo by Russ Rowland

By Karen Isaacs

While watching Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade from the comfort of my couch, I wondered “is this theater or film?”

This production which Playhouse on Park in West Hartford is making available through Oct. 4, raises the issue.

It is filmed on what could be a stage set or a film set. But it was not filmed in one continuous take as a live streaming performance is, and it was not filmed before an audience.

It may seem to be nit-picking, but there is a distinction between film and theater; in this period, that fine line is blurring.

Kennedy is a one-actor piece, written and performed by David Arrow. It focuses on the Presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 which ended with his assassination in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles after winning the California primary.

One actor pieces can create difficulties for an author. Why is this person telling us these things? What is the motive and setting for this? It can become very obvious and static. Director Eric Nightengale and Arrow attempt to get around this with movement but it remains an issue, particularly since the play begins with the assassination.

So has Bobby come back from the dead to tell us about these events?

Another difficulty is the lack of other characters and voices. Some one person plays, such as Fully Committed which is at MTC, has the performer impersonate other people. Rather than  have the main character relate to us what others say or think, the actor becomes these characters.

But let’s look at the piece itself. Kennedy uses projections to help set the scenes as well as effective sound design. When Kenney refers to his working for Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, we see a projection of the Senate hearing room. The play opens with the sounds of the cheering crowd in LA as he makes his victory statement.

It is clear that Arrow admires Kennedy a great deal; while he has Kennedy mention some of the criticisms that were hurled at him throughout his career – from ruthless to opportunism – the character gives glib responses and minimizes them. This Kennedy isn’t self-reflective or self-aware.

Arrow has created enough resemblance to Kennedy through hair, voice and accent to be plausible, though it might be easier to accept the performance on an actual stage. The film’s close ups only point out that he, in fact, doesn’t actually look like Kennedy. And while he does a good job with the accent, you can question if the voice is a little too high pitched.

Yet during a period where theater is in short supply, Kennedy – Bobby’s Last Crusade fills the gap.  For those who lived through those tumultuous times, it will bring back memories. For the majority of the audience who is much younger, it does bring this part of our history to life.

For tickets to stream this production, visit playhouseonpark.org.

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