The Best Plays about JFK
In this week's Dallas Observer, we chronicle the history of Jack Ruby, All-American Boy, perhaps the best play ever produced by Dallas Theater Center. It's on a surprisingly short list of American plays that have dealt with the JFK assassination. Among the best:
Macbird, a 1967 satire by Barbara Garson, grafts the transfer of power after JFK's death onto the plot of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Kennedy's Children, by Robert Patrick, is a 1974 period drama that looks at the legacy of the Flower Child generation as they reach adulthood. Produced in the late 1970s at Dallas Theater Center in its Down Center Stage space, the play is a series of monologues about disillusionment among young people that followed the tragedies of the 1960s.
The House of Yes, later a 1997 movie starring Parkey Posey, began as a play by Wendy MacLeod. Main character "Jackie-O" is obsessed with JFK's death and the fashionable image of his widow. She dresses in a copy of the pink suit and pillbox hat the real Jackie was wearing on November 22, 1963.
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Grey Gardens, the Tony-winning 2006 musical, is peripherally related to the JFK story with its true-life tale of Jackie Kennedy's aging aunt and cousin, who occupied a crumbling mansion on Long Island. WaterTower Theatre staged a hugely successful production starring Pam Dougherty and Diana Sheehan in 2009. The source material is a 1975 film documentary about by the Maysles brothers.
Assassins, the 1990 Stephen Sondheim musical, includes Lee Harvey Oswald among its cast of presidential killers. Collin College so far has produced the best local staging of this show (in 2003). The 2004 Broadway production won five Tony Awards. Like the Jack Ruby play, the musical sets its action in a carnival atmosphere, with the men and women who tried (and sometimes failed) to assassinate presidents seen as figures in a garish sideshow revue.
Crushing Grain is an intriguing play by Dallas writer Bill Fountain that was produced at Fountain's low-budget Level Grounds Arts theater company in 2009. The script asks questions about Lee Harvey Oswald's conflicting life histories. How did he end up in the Texas Theatre on the day of JFK's assassination? Was he a "patsy" of a larger conspiracy, as he claimed to press and police at the time? Or is the main character in this play only a mental patient who lives in a delusion that he's Oswald? So far, Level Ground's is the only production of this as-yet unpublished drama.
Oswald, by Dennis Richard, is the newest title in the collection of JFK-related works for the stage, premiering in a small theater in New York City in 2011. The script is adapted from Oswald's extensive interrogation by Dallas Police Captain Will Fitz, who talked to Oswald constantly during the 48 hours he was in custody. The play begins with the JFK assassination and ends with Ruby killing Oswald on live TV two days later.
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