AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Jack Holmes
Directed by Randall King
Presented by San Jose Stage Company
The Stage
490 S. First St., San Jose, CA / (408) 283-7142

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Turbulent times in American history are vividly recalled in "RFK," presented by San Jose Stage Company.

Jack Holmes' one-man play features David Arrow as Robert F. Kennedy mainly in the four years between 1964 and 1968. It starts nine months after the assassination of Kennedy's older brother, President John F. Kennedy, on Nov. 22, 1963, when RFK says he won't be President Lyndon Johnson's running mate.

He and Johnson never got along during JFK's presidency, when RFK was attorney general and his brother's principal adviser. Therefore, rather than campaign with Johnson, RFK ran for and won a Senate seat from New York.

While in the Senate, he gained a reputation for ruthlessness, especially in his pursuit of ties between labor leader Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia. He also became increasingly opposed to the escalating war in Vietnam, declaring privately that JFK should never have allowed the U.S. to become involved.

He was appalled by Southern efforts to thwart desegregation and by the increasingly violent protests by blacks and others.

When Johnson announced that he wouldn't run for re-election in 1968, RFK belatedly jumped into the race. He gave impassioned speeches about the price of the war and the plight of poor people. He wanted to galvanize young people.

Much of the second act takes place between 1967 and 1968, but there's a wrenching scene when he recalls his brother's assassination and the aftermath. He had to make all of the key decisions for the funeral, comfort Jackie Kennedy and break the news to his children.

Interspersed with all of the politics and social unrest are touching moments about life with his family and his wife, Ethel. Finally, there's that awful final scene when he was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles just after celebrating his victory in the California primary. Ethel was pregnant with their 11th child.

Directed by artistic director Randall King and bearing something of a resemblance to RFK, Arrow capitivates the audience as he describes both harrowing and humorous moments. It's a tour de force performance.

Running about two hours and five minutes with one intermission, the experience becomes even more vivid with David Murakami's projections of historic photos and with Cliff Caruthers' sound design. It includes protest songs and rock music of the times. The simple set is by Rick Ortenblad with dramatic lighting by David Gotlieb and costumes by Jean Cardinale.

For those who lived through those times, this play brings back a flood of memories. For those who weren't around then, it offers a dramatic history lesson and insights into what that era was like.

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