“I divide every single thing into ‘before the event’ and ‘after the event,'” says Wanda (Tamilla Woodard DRA ’02) at the start of “Kennedy’s Children.” Even after a night at the Yale Cabaret’s premiere of Robert Patrick’s one-act play, one still fails to understand why.
“Kennedy’s Children,” written by Robert Patrick and directed by Gia Forakis DRA ’04, uses 60 minutes of monologues to focus on the emotions of two men and three women in 1974. Since the setting is an East Village pub, Forakis’ stage extends into the audience with characters occupying both barstools and dinner tables. Sandra Goldmark DRA ’04, whose well-worn bar meshes subtly with the Cabaret itself, deserves credit for her set design.
“Children” opens with radio coverage from Sept. 11, the Columbine shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, the attempt on former President Ronald Reagan’s life, and then finally the Kennedy assassination. We’re meant to understand Patrick’s thesis from the outset, one which forms the backbone of the play: the murder of Kennedy was the genesis of the decay, disillusionment, pessimism and despair of the world since.
If the radio clips aren’t telling enough, Patrick’s point is made patently clear as the five characters embark on their series of monologues, Patrick gives us a flamboyant actor, a flower child, a drug addicted GI and a would-be sex goddess, all of whose life stories are nicely overlaid by far the more emotionally intact Wanda. Her primary role is to recount the day of the assassination itself.
The five seem to have no commonalities save two: they are all addicts (to something), and they are all searching for something to believe in. Yet, there’s nothing “special” enough in any of them to make the audience understand why they should care about the character’s stories, or why these five are specifically suited to weave together in a single play. None of the characters manages to escape rather cardboard and predictable stereotypes that tend injure their appeal.
For instance, while Michael K. Field’s DRA ’02 Sparger turns out well-timed humor, his eccentric out of work actor bit has been tried too many times to elicit real empathy.
While most, if not all of the characters fail to be genuinely new or engaging, the fault doesn’t necessarily fall on the actors, who are passable. The real problem with “Kennedy’s Children” is that it builds too quickly (if it even builds at all) to the characters’ pessimistic and desperate states; that’s the only way they are ever presented. From their opening lines, they appear to be victims of post-traumatic stress. The audience is robbed of a sense of “before,” the sense that these people were once something other than alcoholics, drug addicts, suicidals or what have you. Forakis’ heavy-handed direction stifles any possibility of character growth — she is emotionally trigger-happy.
Without seeing the characters descend from normality to tortured despair, the nervous eccentricities of each are never startling, but monotonous and overused. Their monologues show little alteration beyond bitter self pity and never exhibit the kind of revelations that show they are dynamic characters. By the curtain, no one has moved very far from where he or she was in the opening lines.
Though the prose of “Kennedy’s Children” is well-written, it nonetheless seem stuck in a treadmill of relentless depression and nihilism. Surely this is Patrick’s point about the mid-’70s; still, if we’re going to talk about where we were versus where we are, we’d better have a sense of our starting point.