nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 11, 2005
If we could get the right 535 people to see Jack Holmes's solo play RFK—and if they'd really listen to and heed its powerful message—then we really wouldn't need anybody else to see it at all.
Alas, as things stand, most of the 535 United States Senators and Congressmen and -women almost certainly will not be seeing RFK. So the thing to do is to see it for yourself. And maybe this genuine profile in courage (to lift the title of a book by RFK's brother) will inspire you to vote some of the cowards among the 535 out of office.
Oh yes: this is a political work. So much so that it's hard for me to evaluate it objectively as drama. Holmes, RFK's playwright and sole actor, has put together the words of Robert Francis Kennedy and channeled his persona so effectively that the illusion comes close to being complete: this play is like an evening with RFK brought back to life, to remind us of the real American Dream that we used to really chase and believe in, only a few decades ago.
Holmes's Robert Kennedy says
President Kennedy stood up and he publicly took all the blame for the Bay of Pigs. He said, “Victory has a hundred fathers, but failure is an orphan.” And then we never trusted the military again.
The thing we said to each other so many times is you have to consider the children of the world. When you talk of war, it wasn’t what would happen to us. What would happen to the kids who had nothing to do with it?
And he says
All of the money for poverty, education, healthcare, the environment, is being wasted on the war. This is the Great Society?
And he says
We need new politics. It’s not that we need to be more liberal or more conservative. We just need better liberals; we need better conservatives. We need a new way of looking at America’s role across the world.
For too long we’ve acted as if the great military strength of this country could bring about an American solution to every problem across the world. We know now that it cannot.
And he says
If you don’t speak out, nobody else will! If you don’t lead this effort, no one will! This is a compassionate country. That’s what I want this country to stand for. Not violence, or lawlessness, but compassion, and love, and peace!
And he says more, but I think you get the idea; I was amazed how resonant and potent the words of this man have proved to be. Whether or not Holmes delivers a brilliant theatrical experience here (he does), he's speaking out, in the voice of a politician and statesman gone nearly 40 years now, with an eloquence and wisdom that few living politicians or so-called statesmen ever seem to muster.
Now, stepping back more squarely onto my theatre reviewer's turf, let me add that Larry Moss's direction of Holmes's script is masterful and that the structure and simplicity of the piece are brilliantly realized. Holmes and Moss understand that the audience is intelligent and will follow RFK wherever he goes, into his past and into his future, in locations all over the globe. There's no unnecessary hand-holding here, which means that the show can soar. Yet there's always plenty of time for ideas, which are plentiful and important, to sink in, get considered, get weighed.
RFK is very squarely focused on the political life of its subject, from his time as JFK's attorney general through his stint as a Senator from New York to his aborted campaign for the presidency in 1968. But there's still a great deal of Robert Kennedy the man that emblazons this portrait—the little brother trying to keep up with his overachieving older siblings; the devoted husband and family man; the brother-in-law forced by circumstance to help the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy through the achingly personal decisions of a presidential funeral (the story about whether President Kennedy's casket would be open or closed is particularly heart-wrenching).
And yes, there's even a little snippet about Marilyn Monroe.
But mostly, what Holmes is doing here in RFK—and don't imagine for a minute that the timing of this project is in any way accidental—is issuing a call to arms, and a challenge. We can't know what the world would be like today if Sirhan Sirhan hadn't struck Bobby Kennedy down that night in June 1968. But as Kennedy said, by way of Shaw, we can still dream things that never were and say why not. Like Dorothy in Oz, America always has the capacity to bring itself back home, if only we find the will. RFK will—let us hope—inspire many of us to seek our values all over again, harder than ever before.