At The Stage: ‘RFK’ reminds us of a different kind of politics

Arrow’s got RFK’s pointed elbow jabs, along with hair that falls like Kennedy hair when pushed aside, and a Boston accent that takes me back to Dorchester Ave. where “war” still requires two syllables.

RFK - San Jose Stage Company
David Arrow as RFK. (Photo: Dave Lepori)
In Review

RFK

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
San Jose Stage Company
Through October 25
thestage.org
Review by

San Jose Stage Company opens its new season revisiting the dynasty with no skin in the 2016 campaign.

Other dynasties may grow tedious, but when we spy old Kennedy home movies seen countless times before, something flickering across the screen still makes us pause to take in some parcel of the dancing energy, intelligence, and acerbic humor, like an extension of your better self. RFK takes you right to that point. This one-man show could have easily been more leopard-skin-pillbox-hat kitsch, but David Arrow’s performance goes straight to that flickering energy in the old black-and-whites that captured your imagination in the first place.

RFK, authored and performed by Jack Holmes, first opened in a Bleecker St. theater in 2005. This is its regional premiere.

David Arrow’s performance went well beyond being an RFK impersonator. Sure, he does a solid RFK impression. Arrow’s got RFK’s pointed elbow jabs, along with hair that falls like Kennedy hair when pushed aside, and a Boston accent that takes me back to Dorchester Ave. where “war” still requires two syllables.

However, a few impersonator’s gimmicks wouldn’t sustain a two act anything, especially when everyone in the audience already knows the ending. Arrow inhabits the whole of his character and when he occasionally runs off to the back of the house, you feel the energy as he passes.

Excellent costuming by Jean Cardinale makes a strong case for skinny ties and skinnier lapels. The set, otherwise unremarkable, was augmented by black and white footage periodically projected on a rear wall.

If the 2016 race is already making you feel a little mired, this production provides relief.

Holme’s script is predictable, opening in the days after JFK’s assassination, with forays back to Kennedy’s days as attorney general, facing down Sam Giancana and Jimmy Hoffa. However, while this predictability may have been necessary, Holmes still manages to effect a small tease, reserving the anticipated line from Aeschylus (“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against out will comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”) until the very end, after a dozen other quotes. The script also manages to mine a few new nuggets – at least new to me, like the factoid that McGovern had first direct mail campaign.

ALSO SEE: Wildly Exuberant & Coyly Petulant at Smuin Ballet’s season opener

The real question is whether you want to get your Kennedy jones fixed staying home rereading the 1,000+ page Arthur M. Schlesinger. Jr.’s RFK bio, or venturing out to this impressive production.

If you grew up drinking the Kennedy kool-aid, a good case can be made for staying home with Schlesinger, given the material’s predictability. However, if the 2016 race is already making you feel a little mired, this production provides relief.

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.