“Yes, parts of RFK are without doubt unneeded, but it is simple for the viewer to overlook that flaw, because Holmes gives 110 percent, becoming Robert in a frightening show of acting prowess. Acting is hard work and requires that its practitioner give of himself in an unselfish fashion. In RFK, Holmes is acting.”
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In the one-man show RFK, its writer and performer Jack Holmes gives an inspiring performance as Robert Francis—Little Brother to John Fitzgerald, and former Presidential Hopeful. What he establishes, acting is his strongest means of expression.
As a writer, Holmes uses specific language that at times affects the viewer like salt on an open wound. A large part of RFK is excessive, however, and that the 100-minute show is performed without intermission is sometimes detrimental to its impact and flow. Assassination, politics, and racism are cumbersome issues from which the viewer needs time to recover. Another flaw, the viewer knows all the plot points from the life of RFK. When Holmes recounts them, the viewer loses interest with quickness.
It is through use of lesser-known details that Holmes strikes the heart. As Robert, Holmes recounts an interview with a journalist, during which his then ten children prove distractions and nuisances. The viewer watches Holmes, as he answers questions posed him and pleads with his children to behave themselves in a show of faux parental control. Here, Holmes humanizes Robert and becomes for the first time during the show the iconic figure with which several people—Americans and non-Americans—have felt deep connections. I liked Robert, one man said before the performance. He had so much feeling, he continued. He is right, as Holmes charges his character choices with feeling seldom seen in theater.
Watching Holmes shift from brother to father to politician is incredible. He does not miss one beat. His transitions from sad to upbeat are incredible as well, as David Weiner magnifies their strength with lighting that captures the poignant nature of the text. When Holmes recounts the time Martin Luther King, Jr. is trapped inside an Alabama Black church that Klansmen surround, looking to kill niggers, Weiner places Holmes in darkness but in front of the silhouette of a tree enclosed in a circle of red light.
The scenic design is minimal. The backdrop Neil Patel creates reads as a patchwork of mismatched Color Field paintings. When lights hit one or several, however, abstract renderings of recognizable iconic images and locations are created. When Robert visits Poland in RFK, for example, he delivers a speech before an American flag illumined from five secluded but well-lighted blocks of color suspended in space.
Phillip Lojo does phenomenal work as well. His sound design situates the viewer within the 1960s, when Robert is a burgeoning political figure. His use of music from The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix amongst others contributes to the authentic mood for which Holmes strives.
What the viewer knows, Robert is assassinated after emerging the victor at a presidential debate in California in 1968. In RFK, his assassination is handled with prudence. As Robert, Holmes recalls nights he climbed the Arlington fence to visit his older brother. When the lights dissolve all of a sudden, it is but one brief moment before the viewer realizes what has happened. Here, the show ends, and Robert has not climbed the fence once more but joined his brother in the afterlife.
Yes, parts of RFK are without doubt unneeded, but it is simple for the viewer to overlook that flaw, because Holmes gives 110 percent, becoming Robert in a frightening show of acting prowess. Acting is hard work and requires that its practitioner give of himself in an unselfish fashion. In RFK, Holmes is acting.
RFK has the power to strike emotional cords with each person who witnesses the masterful living portrait recreated each night at 45 Bleecker. Watching the commanding performance Holmes delivers is worth the excess.