Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

Kennedy's Children




Entertainment Now Productions

at Cassidy's Pub

Robert Patrick's play Kennedy's Children was originally set in 1974 in New York. The current adaptation is set in Chicago in 1987, but that's the least of its problems. Poorly, and in some cases atrociously acted, with next to no direction at all, Kennedy's Children takes the stage in the back room of Cassidy's Pub, dead on arrival.

The play itself is pretty simple. In fact, it's just a collection of monologues. Five characters meet in a bar on Valentine's Day and reminisce about the 60s. There's a Viet-vet junkie, a gay actor, a schoolteacher with a Kennedy fixation, a commercial actress with a Marilyn Monroe fixation, and a lawyer who used to be an activist. There's a minimum of dialogue, just enough patter to either punctuate or set up each ensuing monologue. So, what have you got? A handful of has-beens and never-weres, only casually related to one another, ragging on and on about the 60s to anyone who'll listen.

Back in 1975 this play eulogized a decade only recently buried in a shallow grave. Certain things were said in order to get on with the business of survival. Now, in retrospect, it smacks of dated revisionism. As Carla, the commercial actress, says, "I hate the 60s. I hate everything that happened in them, and everything that didn't happen." The sad truth is that Carla's attitude seems far healthier than the overall tone of the play, which dredges up only cliches and propaganda from that era. To analogize, Maynard G. Krebs is to the beat generation as Kennedy's Children is to the 60s -- at least in this production.

Of course, it's in the nature of the play that the characters should be anachronisms, and the most obvious of these is Rona, the exactivist. Rona is unconvincingly played by Molly Reynolds, whose sole attempt to age her character has involved spraying some gray into her hair. Rona has done it all, from civil rights marches to People's Park to Cuba to the summer of '68. In the course of Rona's monologues, it would be hard to find a single, major countercultural event that she didn't attend. Yet there's little in Reynolds's characterization to suggest how she became a lawyer, how she feels about her present situation, or how she feels about her husband, Robby, whose life she has apparently destroyed. Why, for instance, would Rona say things like, "They jailed Huey Newton. They shot Martin and Bobby"? What's this "they" stuff? How could Rona be a lawyer in her thirties and still lump all the enemies of the revolution into an unspecified pronoun? Beats me, but had Reynolds risked even a glancing recognition of this anachronism, not only would her character have made some sense, but she might have shed some light on why this play takes a retrospective point of view.

The onus of worst characterization, however, goes to Brad Davidson, who plays Sparger, the flamboyant gay actor. True, his role is as bogus as any of the others. If Rona is the activist Everywoman, then Sparger is the gay Everyman. A cross-dresser, raped and beaten by sailors at the age of 16, adopted by a gay cabaret -- you name it, Sparger has lived it, and goes on to talk about it until it becomes just so much hoo-ha. Instead of finding some mote of credibility in his agitprop monologues, Davidson compounds the problem with an overaffected nasal simper, fey gestures and a performance that amounts to an insulting parody of the gay male. Davidson is trite, offensive, and unamusing except, perhaps, to homophobes who are amused by this sort of display.

The rest of the cast isn't as bad, but is by no means a source of relief. Steve Greer (as Mark, the Viet vet) plays the classic burnedout junkie, yet another stereotype that we could afford to live down. Mark's whole routine consists of reading from his Vietnam diary, during which Greer often forgets to look at the diary while he's reading. Then there's Carla, the commercial actress, played by Janyne J. Peek, who does little more than slink, stretch, and lock herself in the bathroom where she unaccountably bursts into tears. Carla takes 87 sleeping pills and expires, slumped over a table, at the end of the play. At least there won't be any more monologues out of her. The best performance is given by P.K. Doyle, as Wanda, a woman who idolizes JFK. But Doyle only manages to shellac a little persona over her role as a mouthpiece. Once again, you can see the character's obsession -- with pillbox hats, sex in the White House, and Camelot -- but still don't get any idea why Wanda is such a head case.

The question is, how do you resurrect such a dated and recalcitrant play? The few discernible choices that director Paulette Petretti made seem rather lame. First, by updating the play from 1974 to 1987, Petretti posed herself an incredible problem: how do you show the additional change and growth in the characters without rewriting the entire play? The few Additions of contemporary color -- a mention of Platoon, a passing swipe at near north yuppies -- only aggravate an overwhelming incongruity. Petretti also tries to breathe some sense of character relationship, some actual dialogue into this play, in order to alleviate the discontinuity caused by so many serial monologues. It doesn't work. Each character is inescapably sealed off in his or her own world, and propping one character up as a listener doesn't make a conversation. Eventually, in turn, each character winds up pontificating downstage center to the two-drink-minimum audience, and there's not much of a reception waiting down there either.

The 60s died a hard, lingering death. It started with media exploitation, and it finished with apathy and greed. All that are left now are corny souvenirs, thrift store clothes, and half-remembered ambitions broken by their own naivete. I can't speak for all of us who were there -- in the way that we used to speak for our generation -- but I personally prefer my own memories to Time magazine's version of that decade. Playwright Robert Patrick cheapens those memories. As Sparger says, "I'm having a memory hemorrhage." Well, as the Rolling Stones once said, "Let it bleed."

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