Biographical plays and movies always serve two masters. First, they want to illuminate your experience of a historical figure and get you to understand who the person was and why he or she was important. Second, they want you to marvel at just how perfectly an actor is embodying this person. Doesn’t he look JUST LIKE LINCOLN?
Russ Widdall, who stars in the one-man show “RFK,” does a decent job on both counts. He looks enough like Robert F. Kennedy that you don’t have to suspend any disbelief (and his accent is wonderful — distinctive without being parodic). His portrayal of a man trying to honestly change the world for the better is convincing and, of course, tragic without an awareness of its tragedy.
Author Jack Holmes has avoided the mawkishness that so often accompanies any Kennedy-related story and has created a character that resembles a folksy Batman in shirt sleeves. Think about it: He’s from a wealthy family, marked early on by the tragic death of his loved ones, has a keen sense of justice and deep psychological issues, and is the hope of humankind. Batman, obviously.
There’s a saintliness to our vision of RFK that Widdall seems to be trying to combat with his low-key, likable performance. Holmes’s script is long on anecdote (as, one imagines, Bobby’s discourse would have been) and tries to give you the impression of just having a conversation with Kennedy.
This production has its drawbacks: There are long, grainy, confusing video portions that fail to really tell you anything about RFK, but these just make you happier to see Widdall when he returns. Watching the production makes you understand why the boomer generation is so obsessed with the deaths of the Kennedys, why RFK seemed like he could change things but never got the chance — and, glancingly, why RFK’s assassination is an essential part of his myth. The guy who actually gets elected and has a chance to screw things up never, with the one glaring exception that is Ronald Reagan, gets canonized in the public imagination like the Kennedys have.
by Jack Holmes. 95 minutes. Through July 25 at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit capitalfringe.org.