BWW Reviews: Gangbusters Theatre Company Presents the World Premiere JFK Conspiracy Play SUNNY AFTERNOON at Theater Asylum
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy before a crowd of onlookers in Dealey Plaza on the streets of Dallas, Texas. Those of us who were alive on November 22, 1963, will never forget where we were when we heard the news. In the days that followed, we were glued to our television screens watching with devastated hearts as the tragedy played out live in our homes.
At the center of it all was Lee Harvey Oswald, arrested that afternoon as the suspected assassin who was murdered himself two days later while in the custody of the Dallas Police, fueling fifty years of fervent debate and controversy. And if, like me, you were watching at the exact moment that Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, then you too certainly felt as if the rug had just been pulled out from beneath the American people.
SUNNY AFTERNOON examines the mysteriously unrecorded 48 hours Lee Harvey Oswald was in the custody of Police Captain William Fritz (Darrett Sanders), who has only a limited amount of time to pry the answers from Lee before he is to be transferred from police headquarters to county jail and an appointment with his own destiny. Even though we know how things end for Lee Harvey Oswald (Andy Hirsch), the play, propelled with the force of a locomotive, comes to a startling conclusion and plays out much like a 90-minute Twilight Zone episode.
The play attempts to shed light on many unanswered questions about Oswald. Was he merely a patsy as he claims? Was he part of a larger conspiracy? Was he really convinced to go along with the plan after being tempted with Hershey's milk chocolate and Coca Cola? And who was in charge and why did they want to kill Kennedy? Conspiracy theorists will kick up their heels with glee: You're not paranoid if "They" actually are out to get you.
This past summer, Gangbusters mounted a workshop presentation of SUNNY AFTERNOON at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, taking home a 'Best of Fringe' distinction, as well as Playwriting and Ensemble nominations. Now the company is back, presenting a fresh draft of SUNNY AFTERNOON as a fully produced work in a World Premiere engagement at Theatre Asylum in Association with Combined Artform.
The cast includes (in alphabetical order) Giovanni Adams (Clarence), Jim Boelsen (FBI Agent James Bookout), Patrick Flanagan (FBI Agent James O. Hosty), Michael Franco (DA Henry Wade), Gil Glasgow (Police Chief Jesse Curry), Andy Hirsch (Lee Harvey Oswald), Darrett Sanders (reprising his role as Homicide Captain William Fritz), Dustin Sisney (Detective Dick Simms), Donnie Smith (reprising his role as Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels who enters the Homicide Office covered in Kennedy's blood), Mark St. Amant (Howard Hunt), Janellen Seininger (Postal Inspector H.D. Holmes), LQ Victor (Detective Elmer Boyd), and Justin Welborn (Assistant DA Bill Alexander).
The cast is certainly led by the brilliant Darrett Sanders reprising his role as Homicide Captain William Fritz, a Southern cigar-chomping, good-old-boy more interested in football than the dilemma he finds himself in that day. He engages Oswald in conversations on the most mindane things, then launches into "did you kill the president" which Oswald always denies. Fritz argues to keep the trial in Dallas where the crime was committed but soon is convinced it is a federal case that has to be tried in a Federal court. Hesitant to turn over the evidence to the Feds but realizing it must be done, he orders photographs to be taken of everything before it is shipped to DC. Of course, we know much of the evidence disappeared in transit, but will we ever know what really was found out during those two days? And who wanted to keep it quiet and why?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Fringe black box production of SUNNY AFTERNOON with the small space adding to the overall dramatic tension of the play. And I think, on the whole, The Acting Company was tighter and more grounded in their characterizations, as many in the current cast seem to be presenting caricatures rather than honestly being in the moment with the real people they are portraying. The acting just seemed a bit more superficial this time around, whereas each cast member in the workshop production was right on target in their dedication to the authenticity of the play as a whole.
The larger stage and more fully realized set in the current production added more authenticity to the Dallas Police Station's Homicide Office, and the addition of a large retractable screen on the back wall used to project motorcade images from the day, TV commercials, also allowed us to see characters walking down the hall displaying their frame of mind before and after their encounter with Oswald. At one point, the screen disappears and we see Oswald at the window with a rifle in his hands....and someone behind him egging him on. But who was that? Perhaps we will never know.