Conspiracy theories have become increasingly embedded in our political culture. Fueled by numerous film and television thrillers, the role of the F.B.I. in such speculations becomes unavoidable. Mark St. Germain's dark comedy "Ears on a Beatle," which follows two mismatched F.B.I. agents whose "subject" is John Lennnon during his years of anti-Vietnam activities, somewhat ironically suggests a connection between the shooting of Bobby Kennedy and Lennon. This ninety minute play covers the period from John and Oko's activities in New York to the shooting outside the Dakota. It premiered at the Barrington Stage in Summer 2003 and played the next season in NYC.
The agents, one seasoned member of the old guard who was present when Bobby was shot, and one new recruit are played by Steven Barkhimer and Michael Kaye. IRNE winner Barkhimer, fresh from a summer outdoors at the Public Theatre playing Shylock and Ulysses, was seen last season at the Lyric in Lanford Wilson's "Book of Days". As usual, he's found a unique physical presence for Howard Ballentine, truly one of J. Edgar's boys, that carries his performance. Michael Kaye, who was the young villain in "Book of Days", is naive Daniel McClure this time. He plays the son of a Vietnam general doing his part by joining the F.B.I. and infiltrating Lennon's antiwar circle by pretending to be a hippie weaver. Daniel's also a Beatles fan and idolizes Bobby. The first half of the play follows the rather inept efforts of these stereotyped Feds to get enough damning information about Lennon to have him deported--before Nixon's run for reelection. That strategy incidentally is credited to Dixiecrat turned Republican, Strom Thurmond, who pointed out that the influx of new eighteen-year old voters might swing the election against Tricky Dick.
Things get a bit more serious when the earnest undercover agent falls in love and moves in with his peacenik contact. Then "Peace", as she's renamed herself, gets pregnant--it's prior to Rowe v. Wade--but doesn't want to get married. Meanwhile Howard, through happenstance, meets Lennon in person while pretending to be a telephone repairman. The young couple get married at the hospital when she gives birth, Howard's divorce is having serious second thoughts, and Hoover dies. None of these actions would be especially out of place in a TV drama/comedy. The final scenes however, eight years later--the time passage indicated by a quick audio summary of Nixon's reelection, Agnew's conviction, the resignation, the Carter Presidency, and the advent of the Gipper--pull various threads together. The comic paranoia from the beginning of the play becomes uncomfortably relevant as the two agents windup outside the Dakota just as Lennon is shot. Perhaps the Boss should be worried.
Under Paula Ramsdell's straightforward direction, the series of short scenes unfold economically. Barkhimer and Kaye play the old hand and the new kid with ease, though the latter could probably find more depth in his role, even though the playwright hasn't provided much. Voiceovers, including some recorded by Dick Cavett, remind the audience between scenes of the political situation at the time. Robert Russo has backed the simple office setting with a photocollage centered around a large picture of John, and found quite believable costumes for his two actors. It's quite a change from the architectural complications of his previous sets for "Lend Me A Tenor" and "Noises Off." Eleanor Moore's lighting, as in "The Mercy Seat" last season, is clear and effective. This is a deceptively simple show with subtly subversive intentions. One doesn't get the impression that Germain actually believes the thesis his comedy proposes. But the old question about "who will watch the watchers?" still applies, as the news daily attests.
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