According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"RFK," by Aaron Riccio

A bad play is just words, and a bad life is just memory; but when it’s done right—as in RFK—words can take on life, and memories can dance with white-hot images in our brains, and they can hurt us, please us and move us all the same.

“Ruthless Bobby,” they said. "Guts but no brains,” they said. Or “little brother,” they said. These were all just words, phrases, and nicknames for Robert F. Kennedy, a man I knew little about. He was an American leader, a hero, who got shot, like JFK and MLK before him. He was just a name, a character really, to be learned somewhere in the drudgery of endless, bland History classes. Now that Jack Holmes has once more given this potent figure a face, some depth, and real life, he should bring his one-man show, RFK, to schools. “Tragedy is a tool for living,” is the play's message; I’d offer another maxim to our apathetic youth: “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” And if learning can be this entertaining, this powerful, this emphatic, even to someone a generation removed, what excuse do you have not to see RFK?

It’s certainly good theater, full of dramatic possibility and invigorated by Mr. Holmes’ consistently impressive performance. This is the young Attorney General who took on Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, who supported his brother through the Bay of Pigs disaster, and who finally took on President Lyndon Johnson because he believed—imagine that, a politician who believes­—that we had to get out of the war in Vietnam. There’s so much history crammed into this two-hour performance that a little of the depth for each moment is lost or sped through, but each morsel is appetizing and easily digestible, even for the historically dense. And although the monologues lack the wit and narrative thrust of fictional political dramas, like The West Wing, it’s more real: believable, human, and hearty. A heart that beats, and then bites.

From the Tet Offensive to the tragedy of 11/22/63 to the home life of one of America’s indelible (and premature) celebrities, I follow in synch with Mr. Holmes’ passionate narrative, even as it skips back and forth through RFK’s career. Holmes is one of those rare actors with a true sense of vision, and while he is alone on stage, he never fails to conjure up the impression of others teeming all around him. It’s an invisible sort of chaos: imaginary, yet powerful all the same. Some of these moments are a bit jumbled, especially the abrupt shifts in time, but Holmes never loses balance, even as he jumps from an anecdote about Jackie O. catching a “bomb” of a football pass to the “limited bombing” that had begun in Vietnam. Carry that metaphor a bit further: Holmes knows how to run with the ball (and unlike Jackie, he runs in the right direction).

It doesn’t matter that Holmes’ RFK impersonation—while certainly consistent—is not wholly accurate. (It is exaggerated beyond the light lilt and hard “a” [“ah”] of RFK.) And despite lacking a cast, his imitation rarely grows monotonous (unlike David Strathairn’s portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck). And while Holmes may be overly reliant on mannerisms to impress the essence of RFK upon the audience (was he ever that spastic or stolid?), it’s still all too easy to simply get lost in Holmes’ imagination. Though there’s a slow build, every moment can’t be packed with high tragedy, and there has to be a set-up to allow for the emotional pay-off. (This script could use a little paring down, however; the pacing is still a bit off.)

A bad play is just words, and a bad life is just memory; but when it’s done right—as in RFK—words can take on life, and memories can dance with white-hot images in our brains, and they can hurt us, please us and move us all the same.

The Culture Project (45 Bleecker Street #E48)
Tickets: $30.00-$55.00/ $20.00 Student Rush (212-307-4100)
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00/Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday @ 3:00

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