Good Bobby Theatre Review - A Wonderful Exploration of an Historic Icon


The Greenway Arts Alliance venerates the indelible memory of Robert F. Kennedy in Good Bobby, a sort of docu-drama comparable to the bio-pics that have ravaged the cinema.  Playwright and starring actor, Brian Lee Franklin pens an incredibly sagacious and mesmerizing script sure to touch the heart in its immensely dynamic exploration of the complexity of one of America’s most influential icons.  

In their notes, the theatre writes, “The Kennedys have been the closest to what America might have considered to be a royal political family.”  This resounding truth is catalyst for the electric energy palpable in the house.  Prior to the first black out that started the show, I found myself bound by its strength - anxious to be pleased by the play and desperately afraid to be disappointed.  After all, very little worthwhile theatre or film exists on the topic of the Kennedys, despite their fortitude in the history of the United States.  Nevertheless, I was far from disappointed and found myself truly engaged.     

Brian Lee Franklin as "RFK" and R.D. Call as "James Hoffa" in Good Bobby

The play begins at the precipice of Robert Kennedy’s ( Brian Lee Franklin) political career.  He has already successfully managed John’s 1952 Senate Campaign and is working under Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan ( William Stone Mahoney) in the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, trying to gather evidence against James Hoffa ( R.D. Call).  Kennedy is at this point a fledgling in the historical arc of his life, and is persuaded out of his job by the guile blandishments of the ever-designing Joseph Kennedy Sr. ( Steve Mendillo)  John has decided to begin his bid for the presidency of the United States. Joe Kennedy has predetermined Bobby’s role as campaign manager and, as history continues, future Attorney General of the United States and closest advisor to president John F. Kennedy.  The play continues to follow Bobby through his time as Attorney General, highlighting relationships with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , J. Edgar Hoover and addressing such histories as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of his brother. 

The greatest accomplishment of this piece of work is inarguably the script.  Brian Lee Franklin so masterfully documents this delicate time in history with just enough tenacity.  Beyond the history, however, he truly explores every dimension of Robert Kennedy, interpreting him as an underrated and immensely sensitive boy so isolated from the legacies of his older brothers Joe Jr. and John.  Franklin vividly paints the hierarchy and competitive vigor of the Kennedy brothers, a reality he shows as a potential catalyst for Bobby surrendering his sensitivities to the ruthless political games and social dominance of the Kennedy men.  He marks Bobby as a morally true but torn man, not without imperfections.  This humanization of a seemingly flawless icon is what makes Robert Kennedy all the more heroic in the eyes of this piece.  

From left to right: Angie Novello, Paul Marius, and Brian Lee Franklin

Furthermore, many of the scenes were flawlessly infused with history without losing the poignancy of the men behind the history.  One prime example of this includes a scene between Kennedy( Brian Lee Franklin) and James Hoffa( R.D. Call) relatively soon after the death of John.  In this scene, Hoffa delivers a monologue to Kennedy in which he justifies the actions of his racketeering as protection for the workingmen that have shaped the backbone of The United States.  He accuses Kennedy of a spoiled childhood and avers that the Kennedys have tainted the political soil of American history.  It is this scene that then motivates Bobby to run for the Senate, and to consequently find his own voice in politics for the first time in his life.  It’s a stunning inference based on history and one of many instances where Brian Lee Franklin goes beyond the pages of history in defining Bobby Kennedy.  

The play consistently hits some resounding themes: the role of women in the Kennedy household, Bobby Kennedy’s turmoil between his emotional self and the competition of his family, the exploitation of the word Communist in the 1960s, and the catastrophic complexity of the Kennedy Presidency.  

A talented cast of competent actors corroborates the success of the script.  Brian Lee Franklin as Kennedy is graceful, sophisticated, and sensitive.  He looks like Kennedy and adapts many of his physical traits including the unique accent.  A consistent stutter, however, seemed to place much of the dialogue in repetitive rhythms, sometimes overpowering the words underneath.  While it certainly had its place in the personification of Kennedy it seemed a bit distracting at times.  R.D. Call delivers a powerful performance as James Hoffa in the few scenes that compose his character; the play could very well end with his captivating monologue in the second to last scene.  And Steven Mendillo is a wonderfully imperious Joe Kennedy, from his journey as a strong, domineering man to a feeble and incapacitated dependent. 

From left to right: Steve Mendillo, Brian Lee Franklin, and Lisa Richards

The surroundings of the Greenway Courts Theatre, a social hall turned theatre, compliment the show nicely.  The intimacy of the space places you directly in the office with Kennedy and his constituents.  A wonderful array of projected images and historic sound bites give great dimension to the piece.  

I strongly recommend this play as a Los Angeles "Must See".  While you do need to know the historic context to truly appreciate the work, it is a captivating story nevertheless.  Do not miss this.

Good Bobby opened Friday, October 17, 2008 and runs through Sunday, November 23, 2008 at:

Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Friday & Saturday @ 8pm, Sundays @ 4pm

For reservations call: 323-655-7679 ext. 100

Photos by: Ed Krieger

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