reviewed by Conor Mullen
Walking through the East Village in the evening on a Friday, passing bustling restaurants, thrift shops, and a half-dozen or so Starbucks, very little is left of the East Village that Robert Patrick would have walked through 50 years ago. Nowadays as I strode along St Mark’s Place, one hand holding a small-sized cone of artisanal cookie-dough (I got the “classic” flavor) and the other interlaced with my boyfriend’s hand (he also had cookie dough) it’s hard to imagine how different New York was in the 1960’s. That is until I walked down some stairs, picked up my program, and entered the underground space where I would see Regeneration Theatre’s production of Kennedy’s Children.
Reviewing shows in the Off Off Broadway category doesn’t often lead to a lot of reviews that use phrases like “the set was incredible” or “the scenic design immersed me in the world of the play” because if you spend your budget on a fancy set in the Off Off Broadway world then your audience isn’t going to be watching a play as much as a 3D Still Life Painting, for one night only. Fortunately Kennedy’s Children gets around this nicely by setting their play in a dingy East Village basement bar. Though, jokes aside I don’t want to sell their environment short. There’s a reason I started this review the way I did. I felt like I’d walked into the past when I entered the theatre, into a real place. I don’t get to say that often, and it helped the play a lot that it had such a wonderful world created from the moment I walked in.
Kennedy’s Children, for those who don’t know, is a play made up of five monologues from five characters sitting around in a bar on Valentines Day in 1974. Each character recounts their experience of all or part of the 1960’s over the course of the two hour play. There’s Wanda, a school teacher recounting where she was when Kennedy was shot. Sparger, a frustrated gay actor working in Avant-garde underground theatre (a stand-in for Robert Patrick). Mark writing in his personal journal while deployed in Vietnam. Rona a true-blue activist, protester, and hippie remembering all the work she did with her husband to fight for social change. Carla, a wannabe sex-symbol struggling to break away from the pack of girls trying to find fame just like her. And all this under the watchful eye of a (mostly) silent bartender.
Now, this is the part of the review where I would call out some of the actors I thought did an especially good job. This play is only five monologues interlaced together, so if you don’t have good actors, then you’re just watching a board meeting in a basement. The problem is I’m not sure who to call out… because everyone blew me away. There is no weak link in this cast. Everyone in this show brings their A-game. Wanda (Nicole Greevy) is every school teacher I’ve ever seen correcting exams on the subway. Sparger’s (Colin Chapin) drunken jokes hint perfectly at the pain underneath. Mark (Timothy Regan) is the guy I know who joined the army after school, not the big buff guy who wanted to fight, the nice guy who just wanted to do some good. Rona (Sara Minisquero) feels more like a a counter-culture hippie than most of the self-proclaimed hippies I’ve spoken to who actually lived through the 60’s. Carla (Jessica Carollo) has incredible dignity and poise even as she’s telling you she wants to be a sex symbol. And our bartender (Emily Battles) never interrupts or distracts from the scene, making everyone else look good without taking focus (which might be the most impressive of all).
I’ll put it this way, when I walked into the theatre I thought “oh, we’re supposed to feel like we’re in a bar in the 1970’s”. But the acting is what made me believe it.
I do want to spare a moment before we close this out for the Producer’s Note in the program, because I think it lends a lot to the value of this play at this time. Barnaby Edwards says he was heavily inspired by the 2016 election and very specifically by Nov 9th, 2016, the day after the election. I bring this up because I went into this play looking for the connections and reasoning behind this choice. I was expecting some grand “ah ha!” moment that would connect the dots for myself. What I found instead was lines throughout the play that had me softly nodding my head in realization and understanding. This play won’t work to hit you over the head with any specific message, at least it didn’t for me. But it did gently remind me again and again that there are lessons I could take from history and apply to today. I think if you are looking for some lesson to take from the 2016 election, or are struggling to understand what to do next, you might find it in this show.
This is a wonderful production of an excellent show. Kennedy’s Children is worth bringing back and Robert Patrick is worth listening to. I cannot wait to see what Regeneration Theatre does next! Seeing this show was the best part of a wonderful night, and that’s impressive because that night also included artisanal cookie dough.