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Theatre Review (LA): Oswald

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Exploring the aftermath of one of the of the most shattering events in American history, the Kennedy assassination, Oswald dramatizes the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald. The two-act play by Dennis Richard is making its West Coast premiere at the Write Act Repertory in Hollywood.

Since there were no video or audio recordings of the Oswald interrogation by Dallas Police Captain Will Fritz, Richard used historical documents, including Fritz’ own notes, as a basis for this dramatization. It hews pretty closely to the facts, rather than trying to build on the legend that conspiracy theorists have built around the event for nearly 50 years. As such, it’s compelling as history if occasionally tedious as drama.

Andrew Perez is intense as the startlingly intelligent and defiant Oswald. P. David Miller has a good grasp of his characterization of Fritz, the dogged police captain who tries to wear Oswald down with persistence and repetition. Most of the play is a two-hander, with the accused man denying everything and occasionally erupting in anger, even as the evidence mounts, while Fritz continues to question him over the course of three days.

Other characters are appropriately detached or angry—they’re more interested in seeing Oswald locked up or executed than granted a fair trial. Indeed, Ryan John McGivern, as the elderly judge who arraigns Oswald in the interrogation room, wears such a comically false goatee that it seems as if the producers are trying to give credence to that fact. And when Oswald is being taken through the basement for transfer to county jail, Fritz demonstrates how he should crouch down in case “something happens.”

The production’s technical credits are fine, with a utilitarian set and aural effects that include vintage sound bites such as Walter Cronkite’s tearful report of Kennedy’s death, which still holds quite an emotional heft. Perhaps there’s a bit too much “action” music during scene changes, but it helps to add to the staccato, Dragnet-style pacing with which director Richmond Shepard approaches the material.

Oswald certainly was a character worthy of suspicion. Virulently anti-American, he defected to the Soviet Union when he was 20 and remained a member of the Communist Party when he returned to the States. Among other things, he carried a forged Selective Service card (which he allegedly used to purchase the rifle used in the Kennedy assassination) and attempted to kill a right wing extremist U.S. general.

Though some to this day refuse to accept the Warren Commission report’s conclusions, playwright Richard seems to have made up his mind about Oswald’s guilt—the play opens with him firing three shots out the window of the book depository.

Oswald runs at the Write Act Repertory, 6128 Yucca Street, Hollywood, until February 18. Tickets can be obtained by calling (323) 469-3113 or here.

Photo: Dennis Richard

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.