What if Lee Harvey Oswald did, in fact, kill JFK but for a completely different reason than has ever been speculated? Writer/Director Christian Levatino sets out to explore this very question in his newly penned play, “Sunny Afternoon”. Presented by The Gangbusters Theatre Company, in Association with Combined Artform, this world premiere performance takes an old concept and turns it on its side to be examined anew. Set in Dallas, Texas within the auspices of the crucial 48 hour period Oswald was held in the custody of Dallas Police Homicide Captain William Fritz, the tension is palpable as the shooter is interrogated repeatedly and contention is leveled as to whether the Dallas PD, Texas Rangers, F.B.I or Secret Service is really in charge of this case.
From the time the lights come up, to the bitter end, the cast of predominantly masculine characters is voluminous, frantic and unrelenting as the likes of FBI Agent James Hosty, FBI Agent James Bookout, a harrowingly blood spattered Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels, police Chief Jesse Curry, Assistant DA Bill Alexander, and District Attorney Henry Wade slam in and out of Fritz’ office in a near constant stream of angry panic. As the questions are posed, and answers elude law enforcement, we, the audience, are prompted to regard this fundamental 48 hours of history through fresh eyes and renewed outrage.
The balance of Oswald’s interrogation takes place from the perspective of Dallas Homicide Captain William Fritz, played by a gruff, irascible, bulldoggish, yet somewhat loveable and grittily handsome Darrett Sanders. Flanked steadfastly by Detectives Elmer Boyd played intuitively by LQ Victor and Dick Simms portrayed by an earnestly unflagging Dustin Sisney, the interrogation proceeds under the auspices of the Dallas PD as spontaneously assumed.
FBI Agent James Hosty, played by a deliciously Don Draperesque Patrick Flanagan is the first to contest Fritz’ process and interrogation rights in a most strident and pugnacious fashion, arguing that the assassination of the Commander in Chief is a Federal Case and must remain in the hands of the FBI. FBI Agent James Bookout, played by the relatively comedically silent, yet equally combative, Jim Boelson noiselessly agrees as the virtual Teller to Hosty’s venomously verbose Penn.
The Chief of police remains steadfast regarding his right to interrogate the would-be-killer; (much to everyone’s chagrin that, in light of the most recent Dallas tragedy, there will be no football broadcasts for the remainder of the weekend.)
Fritz’ questioning vacillates between dogged to conversational as Oswald, played by a sincere, unflappable and almost zenly endearing, (zendearing?) Andy Hirsh answers in a very matter-of-fact, virtually calm and childlike fashion. At certain points, Fritz seems nearly paternal towards the alleged killer. Particularly when they are left alone…
As he gazes up at the Police Chief’s imposing profile, a transparently wide-eyed Oswald occasionally seems to beg for answers himself; regarding his existence, his detention, and life itself. The Chief suddenly finds himself indulging Oswald’s impressionable curiosity at his own use of the word “misnomer”.
Oswald-Misnomer, what does that word mean?
Fritz-[Like when one word says something, but means something else.]
Oswald-[Give me an example.]
Fritz-Guinea Pig. [It is neither from Guinea, nor is it a pig.]
At this, Oswald decides to try one of his own.
Oswald-Funny Bone. [It isn’t funny and it sure isn’t a bone.]
Fritz-(gently pensive) “Funny bone”, I like that Lee…
Aside from moments such as these, Oswald is entirely complicit and only declines certain questions he knows would be best answered amidst legal counsel.
“He’s saying everything without saying nuthin’. He’s good…” exclaims a reproachful District Attorney Henry Wade.
“[I’m] very familiar with all types of questions and don’t intend on answering any more until I’ve been given an attorney,” Oswald eventually admits in a most calm and innocuous fashion.
Has Oswald been rehearsed? Just why is he so familiar with such types of queries? Only detective Elmer Boyd will venture to speculate when he and Dick Simms are left to their own devices in Fritz’ office engaged in a casual game of darts. His assertions are perhaps outlandish but, via an earlier flashback witnessed through the eyes of Oswald, not completely off the plausible mark.
At the play’s conclusion, all levels of law enforcement are prepared to assist in the delicate maneuver that involves moving Oswald from the Dallas Police Department using an armored car as a decoy.
Just before transport, a mysterious guest arrives at Chief Fritz’ office door posturing as John Abt from New York, the lawyer Lee requested, played by an almost mythically super-heroic Mark St. Amant, sporting a decided undercurrent of scheming malevolence. Upon entering, “Abt” simply asks, “May I spend just nine minutes alone with this gentleman?” Law enforcement complies. But it’s all a little too little too late as time is now restricted in order for the audience’s curiosity to be completely sated pertaining to the exact nature of the intriguing conspiracy put before us.
The production smacks of gritty patriarchal 1960’s masculine moxie and an all-too-contemporarily familiar “Mad Men”esque authenticity. The acting is superb, the direction sound, and the dialogue, colorful and realistic. But the overall story finds much repetition in needless exposition as the sometimes repetitive interrogation scenes take up the bulk of the action.
As the Kennedy Assassination is a fifty year old case, most of the audience already knows and/or can assume the basics, but what is really lacking is the information pertaining to why this particular conspiracy theory is unique to all others previously posed and, sadly, aside from one eerie and intriguing flashback, and Boyd’s captivating Dart-inspired speculation, it feels as though it was just generically skimmed over in the last ten minutes of the play. Knowing the superficial trigger as to why the shots were fired is interesting enough, but the “why” behind it is really the heart of the narrative. Who is the mystery man who appears at the end? To what is he referring when he mentions “Chicago” and “past operations”? Not only is the devil in the details but so is the suspenseful intrigue along with well…the compelling story.
In short, too much build-up, not enough pay off. But I would still go see it again if given the chance because it was so incredibly well done otherwise…
“Sunny Afternoon”’s remaining performances will take place Friday and Saturday, January 24th and 25th at 8 pm, Sunday January 26th at 3 pm, Thursday January 30th at 8 pm, Friday January 31st at 8pm and Saturday February 1st at 8 pm at Theatre Asylum at 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038, (323) 962-1632