Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Witnessed By the World: A Review

Max Gordon Moore and Charlotte Maier discuss writing a film, while television reprises the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald

Witnessed By the World, the drama previewing in Theatre B in Manhattan’s 59 East 59th Street complex, opens the world of Kennedy assassination theories adding another one to the mix—what did Jack Ruby have in mind when he took out a gun and shot alleged Kennedy shooter Lee Harvey Oswald?

For those of us of a certain age, this was a world event that colored our lifetime, as, with television news turned on as a somber white noise in the days following the brutal murder, we all were witnesses to the event. It was said to be the moment television came of age, but I can’t agree with that since presenting history live for the first time does not seem to have made the medium any more mature in the years that followed. However, that was a moment in which television did its job—immediate, indisputable, horrifying—it brought the complexity of the murderous act into our living rooms. We saw it happen, the world saw it happen, and fifty years later we are still not in complete comprehension of what we did see.

The public by now has largely accepted the Warren Commission’s report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and Jack Ruby acted alone. Two lone rangers playing God, one for his own reasons wanting to eliminate the president of the United States, and the other, for no reason anyone has ever really determined, having the desire and opportunity to eliminate the man who did the deed. Playwrights Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale bring us another possibility in Witnessed by the World, the possibility that both men were employed by the mob to do the jobs they did.

The play is well crafted, introducing an investigative reporter and a young movie screenwriter who are working together to produce a script about Jack Ruby. The reporter, Joan Ross, has had her eye on Ruby for years and feels his story has never been told and should be. The screenwriter does not want to make his mob opus another assassination movie, and insists that the story stops when Ruby makes a trip to Havana. A cast of earnest professionals present the story very persuasively. I would like to have seen the reporter a bit more single-minded in her task, more an aggressive reporter than a nice person. Charlotte Maier was excellent in the role as it was written, but I felt, particularly in the first interview with Ruby's sister (very sympathetically portrayed by Lois Markle), the audience should be aware that Maier, as Joan Ross, is mostly manipulating the older lady to talk more than she wants to. The night I saw it her "befriending" didn't have that edge of "pumping for information" that the scene required. Both actresses are first-rate, and I couldn't tell if it might have been made clearer by rewriting or by direction--or both. Max Gordon Moore (pictured above, and yes, he does look a bit like Woody Allen) does a creditable job of playing the somewhat naive screenwriter.

In a telling moment early in the play, when the reporter is pitching the story, she says, “If you’re looking for an interesting mob figure, I’ve been doing a lot of research on one who has a real story—Jack Ruby!" The movie writer says, “Who?” 

The scene demonstrates the reality that there's been a lot of water under that bridge since the assassination fifty years ago--that there are adults today who don't even know the names of the major players. Maybe the discussions have slacked off, but for years many were never convinced that it was possible that the events came together by accident--two unknown, unconnected, trigger-happy guys could not have unknowingly created the chaos that the waning years of the 20th century became after their actions. I won't spoil the show for you by revealing the authors' theory and its outcome in Witnessed by the World. I'm not totally convinced they are right, but I agree with them that it is time to reopen and reinvestigate the information we do have. I'm told Lynn Scherr will lead a panel discussion after the show on November 22, and there will likely be a number of different conspiracy theories brought to light that evening.

Witnessed by the World will be an intriguing contribution to the discussion. 

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