Near the beginning of Kennedy's Children, Sparger (Michael Aaron Santos) steps through a doorway on one side of the stage. He's wearing a red sports jacket with black leather lapels over a black shirt. Sparger is a somewhat florid, alcoholic actor. The story he tells us in his monologue concerns Cafe Buffo -- a bohemian refuge in Greenwich Village that changed his life.
In fact, each of the five characters in Kennedy's Children reveals himself or herself in a monologue, interwoven like a fugue with the monologues of the others.
I start with Sparger because he's a fictional representation of the author, Robert Patrick. Patrick, a poor Texas boy, went to New York for a look around and found a home base at the Caffe Cino, one of the earliest and most influential Off-Off-Broadway Theaters. This staging of the drama in the Hi-Ho Lounge captures the spirit of low-rent idealism that characterized the Cino and the birth of Off-Off-Broadway.
Curiously, Marigny Theater is just catty-corner from the Hi-Ho, so perhaps we have given birth to a new, raggedy little Off-Off-Broadway of our own.
But back to Kennedy's Children. What we encounter in the play is the '60s as experienced by five people. The unusual thing is that we are not gently stirred to chuckles and sighs by a flow of nostalgia or spoof. Instead, there is a deep unease that builds through the evening -- for all dreams crumble. And the dreams are varied, which seems to be one of the points of the drama.
After things get under way, it takes a while to locate and identify the characters, since director Michael Martin deliberately moves them around the barroom. One character enters from a street door -- or is that a trouble maker from outside? At different times, characters disappear into the men's room or the women's room. One lovely bare-shouldered young lady at the bar, sits on her fur coat, with her back to us, until she starts telling her story -- without turning to face us.
Kennedy's Children does, in fact, begin with J.F.K. -- not actually, but by implication. For we, the audience, are asked to yell and cheer as though welcoming a motorcade. Then, out of nowhere, we hear shots.
J.F.K. then reenters -- in spirit -- as idolized by Wanda (Kathryn Talbot). She works for a magazine. Sitting at her desk on stage, she recounts the unforgettable sequence of events and emotions that radiated like shock waves from that fatal moment in Dallas.
She reminds us how uncertain the first news was.
"Yes, the president has been shot, but he's in the hospital. He'll be fine."
All the phones at the magazine office start ringing. Everyone has to talk to someone. People are afraid, in denial. Grown men burst into tears.
Soon enough, we meet Rona (Carrie Anne Rose). Her take on the '60s couldn't be more different. She comes from a poor background and she joins the counter culture. She is angry and takes action against "them" -- the establishment. She's all for Haight-Ashbury, Fidel's Cuba and marches, marches, marches. Her idealism has to do with a vague but radical changing of the world. Drugs and chaos erode this vision.
The threatening figure who came in from outside and now sits at a booth is Mark (Paul Atreides). He's a G.I. writing his mother from Vietnam. This young man has lost his way. In the insanity of war, his own sanity is cracking. He leans on his buddy for support, but then grows paranoid that his buddy is actually a traitor. He's doing drugs. He's killing people. Will he even survive the '60s?
Finally, there's the girl at the bar (Bridget Erin). The one with the fur coat and bare shoulders. Rona is her name. She is neither infatuated with J.F.K. nor the counter culture. The death that floored her was Marilyn Monroe's. Rona is determined to become the next sex goddess, and this goal fills her with a transcendent passion. It does not, however, ultimately lead her to happiness. On the contrary, her disillusionment is as deep and disturbing as that of the others.
In a sense, disillusionment is the theme of the play, though one not bounded by the nature of the illusion in question. However, I don't want to give the impression that the evening lacks humor. There is much wit and verbal delight.
The acting is consistently solid. These distinct and compelling characters engage you. It's a fine debut for Four Humours Theater Company.
Kennedy's Children is a chance to experience Off-Off-Broadway right here in our own backyard.
- Jason Pitts
- Vietnam vet Mark (Paul Atreides) and Wanda (Kathryn Talbot) recount their experiences in the tumultuous '60s in Kennedy's Children .