Terry Tocantins and Alex Zola's The Magic Bullet Theory is the second play to be produced locally this year focusing on the 1963 JFK assassination. Dennis Richard's Oswald: The Actual Interrogation was performed in January and February at Write-Act Repertory, also in Hollywood. Though strategically ambiguous, Richmond Shepard's staging of Richard's play appeared at least in part to support the lone-gunman theory (the conclusion drawn by the Warren Commission): that a single ricocheting bullet (from one of three shots) killed the president of the United States and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally, both of whom were riding in the sedan with their wives as part of a parade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. With the exception of a couple of flashbacks, Oswald arrived at its view through an extended interrogation scene between the accused Lee Harvey Oswald and a mild-mannered Dallas Police Department captain, Will Fritz — a scene cobbled together from Fritz's hand-scribbled notes. That production also posited the suggestion that Oswald had been framed. The tone of that production combined the noir melodrama of Dragnet and Law and Order, honoring the almost theological conviction of baby boomers that those three shots heard around the world in November 1963 represented the beginning of the end of innocence for the United States. The Magic Bullet Theory, however, written and produced by post–baby boomers, defies all such reverence, and with that defiance carries a healthy skepticism that any era of American history, or any other history for that matter, was innocent. Its larger point is its derision for the controversial single- or “magic” bullet theory. As directed by JJ Mayes, it presents a sketch-comedy conspiracy, irreverently choreographed by Natasha Norman, that unambiguously leaves the Warren Commission report in tatters. In fact, one scene dramatizes the single-bullet theory with an actor holding a bullet, which carries a tail of red string, from the assassin's rifle to and through the passengers (actors posing dutifully in a cardboard cutout of the open sedan). The scene demonstrates the trajectory of the bullet, which would have almost had to reverse directions in midair to support the single-bullet theory, in the meantime slicing through 15 layers of clothing, about 15 inches of tissue and a necktie knot, taking out a chunk of rib and shattering a radius bone. (This point of view also could be found in Oliver Stone's movie JFK as well as its parody on Seinfeld.) The play replaces that theory with a highly speculative suggestion that the assassination was a botched conspiracy, headed by The Texan (Rick Steadman) — Lyndon Baines Johnson goes unnamed — employing a couple of “Yale-Fuck” killers (Pete Caslavka and Monica Greene), as well as Oswald (Michael Holmes), plus Charles Harrelson (Tocantins), who, with Oswald by his side, fires shots before placing the murdering rifle into dimwit Oswald's hands, thereby also supporting the notion that Oswald was framed. Life may be stranger than fiction, but this fiction hangs on the most tenuous of threads: that the Texas contingent and the CIA were so peeved by President Kennedy's soft handling of Cuba, they just wanted to scare him, to let him know what they could do if he didn't stand up to Castro. In flashback, we see The Texan order the parade slowed to 10 miles an hour so the hired guns could fire and miss, sending a message, Mafia-style. But something went terribly, terribly wrong. Imagine the JFK assassination replayed by Monty Python. The Brit sketch-comedy troupe infuriated millions of Catholics with its version of the Crucifixion in Life of Brian. (The crowd whistles to the lyric “Always look on the bright side of life” as the Savior hangs and nods in rhythm.) The Magic Bullet Theory is a comparatively local sacrilege — a couple of thugs dance in slo-mo, mock anguish whenever they see somebody killed. The production dances gleefully with nihilism, finding its footing somewhere between bravery and childishness.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 8. Continues through Dec. 15, 2012
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