Russ Widdall stars as Bobby Kennedy in "RFK." Credit: Annie R. Such
When New City Stage Company initially produced Jack Holmes’ play “RFK” last fall, it was timed to coincide with President Obama’s reelection campaign. New City founding artistic director Ginger Dayle had spent the last four years thinking about the parallels between the two men.
“I realized that when Obama ran in 2008, he had a lot of the same platforms as Robert Kennedy did in 1968,” Dayle says. “Universal healthcare, poverty, environmental issues, social justice — these are all the things that Bobby Kennedy stood for and he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet before he had a chance to do anything about it. I saw those parallels and I thought people would realize that forty years later, in a sad, poetic way, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Those parallels seemed to resonate with audiences, who made the run of “RFK” one of the biggest hits in New City’s seven-year history. So it was only natural for Dayle to want to remount the show to initiate the company’s current season. But this time, with Obama’s second term underway, the show will be the first in a season-long examination of the country’s highest office.
“RFK,” which opens on Thursday night, will be followed in December by the Philadelphia premiere of “Frost/Nixon,” Peter Morgan’s show about the infamous interview with a post-Watergate Richard Nixon conducted by British talk-show host David Frost, who passed away earlier this year. And next March, Dayle will premiere her own new play about John Hinckley, Jr., the would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan. The season concludes with a series of readings of satirical plays about the presidency, including Gore Vidal’s “An Evening with Richard Nixon,” Barbara Garson’s “MacBird!,” and David Hare’s “Stuff Happens.”
Holmes’ “RFK” begins with John F. Kennedy’s assassination and traces the last few years of his younger brother’s life. Co-artistic director Russ Widdall plays RFK as well as David Frost in “Frost/Nixon.” Dayles says, “I thought it would be interesting to see Russ play such completely different people, one very principled, the other more frivolous.”
New City’s production utilizes multi-media elements to transport the audience in time, featuring television footage from the era. The company will use that approach throughout its current season. It also reflects how closely intertwined are the theatrical stage and the political podium. “Politics is theater,” Dayle says. “We always try to create a dialogue with whatever work we’re producing, and I hope people will be intrigued and excited to talk about politics.”