By Karen Isaacs
Have you ever gotten an incorrect date or title in your head? That happened to me when I went to see RFK at MTC in Norwalk. I had been convinced it was the same play that I had seen at Playhouse on Park had shown in September. RFK runs through Nov. 8.
Yes, the two are both one man shows and they both deal with Bobby Kennedy; they cover many of the same incidents and events in his life.
But they are very different. If the first play (Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade) views Kennedy in the most positive way, RFK shows a few more of the warts.
You can’t expect either to really delve into some of the darker sides of Bobby, since the plays are both told from his perspective.
RFK was written by Jack Holmes, an actor, who originated the role in 2004. In this production, Chris Manuel plays Bobby; he manages to have a resemblance to him and has captured his voice – both accent and pitch – almost perfectly.
The play begins around the time of JFK’s assassination but skips both backwards and forwards to Bobby’s assassination in 1972. It is told randomly moving back and forward, with many interludes that veer off the chronological path.
The events of his career are catalogued – working as a lawyer on the Senate committee investigating union corruption and his harsh interrogation of union leaders, including Hoffa; as campaign manager for his brother’s various campaigns including the 1960 the presidential campaign; his job as attorney general, including his attempt at reining in J. Edgar Hoover; and on to his Senatorial period and finally his last campaign.
At times, we hear other voices. Manuel does a remarkable job at getting Jackie Kennedy’s soft, soft voice and pitch, but he also captures everyone from Hoover to George Wallace and Ross Barnett, governors of Alabama and Mississippi respectively.
It provides a nice break from Bobby telling us his story.
But there are gaps. He does try to address the perception by many that he was ruthless. It doesn’t seem clear when his commitment to civil rights and the poor began; certainly through his early career that was not demonstrated.
We do hear stories of his meeting and marrying Ethel Skakel and their eleven children.
Sometimes, playwrights don’t know when to stop or how to edit their work. That was evident in this piece that seemed to not only go too long but to lose tension and a sense of continuity. During the second act (the play runs nearly two hours), at least twice I was ready applaud the final curtain only to find that it continued. The ending, Bobby kneeling at Jack’s grave in Arlington (after his own death) was just puzzling.
Director Kevin Connors kept it moving and encouraged Manuel to roam the back of the stage. R. J. Rosen provided effective lighting and Will Atkins gave us a soundscape that helped set the time period and the locations.
It is interesting that this particular period in our history has brought plays about Bobby Kennedy to the forefront. I think it is the Bobby Kennedy of the later years that people would like to see replicated today: the energy, the commitment to the poor and “other,” and the focus.
For those who did not live through the period, this is an interesting take on history.
For tickets or to purchase access, visit Music Theatre of Connecticut.