Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
David Arrow provides a tour de force performance as Bobby Kennedy, one worthy of special note and possible award. For two hours, he is Bobby in every respect imaginable. Close your eyes and you hear Bobby as remembered with his Massachusetts twang and "r's" thrown into so many words' ends. Watch him, and you see familiar mannerisms long forgotten and a look that is so close to the real person to be almost eerie. But it is in the natural, off-the-cuff feeling of his storytelling and reminiscences that really sell the performance. In the midst of some recounting, a word said or idea popping out may well send this Bobby off on a tangent, only to return some point much later to the original thought. Hesitations as if lines forgotten or wrong words said only to be quickly corrected may be an actor's lapse, but more than likely they are the skills of a writer and his actor portraying a legend as a real person, one who is relating his life story just as any of us would, remembering and forgetting bits and pieces all along the way. The result is a Bobby Kennedy who is totally accessible and vulnerable while also stunningly admirable.
The humor of Bobby particularly stands out in RFK. He laughs at his heavy accent and tells us that he actually tries to sound like Richard Burton, listening to records and practicing every morning Burton's Shakespeare while shaving. He is flummoxed on the campaign trail in his once-hometown of Bronxville by residents who do not remember him: "How do they not remember a paper boy who delivered his newspapers from a limousine?" And he notes that when he took his Senate seat as a junior member, "I had better seats for The Sound of Music."
Bobby takes us around the world as he speaks to thousands in apartheid South Africa (much to the chagrin of the America press and South African leaders), as he goes into Chilean coal mines (admitting "I'd be Communist, too, if I had to work in those mines"), and as he flubs "Ich bin ein Berliner" in divided Germany one year before his more famous brother would return to make the line immortal. Bobby also rants throughout about those he despisesespecially J. Edgar Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and the military establishment. Mr. Arrow is brilliant as Bobby mimics in voice and looks his enemies. He is most tender as he talks about children (his and those around the world) or about his special relationship with Jackie, wife-then-widow of Jack. David Arrow gives us a 360-degree look at Robert Kennedy, and whoever walked in barely knowing him will leave with profound understanding of his intellect, heart, courage, and ability to poke fun at himself.
The jam-packed script of Mr. Holmes and the stellar performance of Mr. Arrow are masterfully directed by Randall King who deftly sends Bobby among several simple but dignified and effective stationary scenes by Rick Ortenblad. David Gotlieb's lighting is perfectly timed and stationed for the flow and the pace of the piece. David Murakami's ongoing, back-wall projections of the actual Bobby and his family, of the faces of the famous and the unknown, and of the increasing turmoil and horror of the racially divided and Vietnam-plagued '60s are almost worth the price of a ticket in and of themselves and do much to make the words of the play come to full life. And the occasional background music (designed by Cliff Caruthers) before and during the play of Dylan, Cocker, and Hendrix complete the mood setting of the time.
This is a story whose sad and tragic ending we already know. Like when I watch Romeo and Juliet, I found myself hoping it did not have to end, this time, like I knew it inevitably would. Messieurs King and Arrow so accurately bring Bobby Kennedy to life that as someone who remembers June 4, 1968, vividly, I was already tearing as that fateful evening approached on the stage before me. The past two hours had reminded me what a Brave Heart (a nickname given him by a Native American tribe) and modern American hero Robert Kennedy truly was. No matter one's politics or leanings, Bobby's courage and concern for those less fortunate, for innocent children caught up in adult wars, and for his own family must be admired. Congratulations to The Stage for a must-see staging of the well-written, very timely RFK.
RFK continues through October 25, 2015, at San Jose Stage Company, 490 South First Street, San Jose. Tickets are available online at www.thestage.org or by calling the box office at 408-283-7142.