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Oswald, The Actual Interrogation - an example of excellence in live theatre!

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OSWALD, THE ACTUAL INTERROGATION by Dennis Richard

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OSWALD, THE ACTUAL INTERROGATION
by Dennis Richard

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Casa Manana

Direction by Casey Hushion
Associate Direction by Noah Putterman
Technical Direction by Michael Martineau
Scenic Design by Colt Frank
Lighting Design by Samuel Rushen
Sound Design by Jonathan Parke
Costume Design by Tammy Spencer
Video Design by Brad Peterson
Properties Design by Robert E. Knox, Jr.
Production Stage Management by Jamie Rog

CAST:

Ben Williams as Lee Harvey Oswald
Ed Dixon as Captain Will Fritz
Bob Hess as ADA Bill Alexander
Bob Reed as Detective Jim Leavelle
Montgomery Sutton as Officer Sims
Brian Mathis as CIA, Postal Inspector Holmes, Reporter 1, Radio Announcer
Bill Jenkins as Judge Johnston, Jack Ruby, Reporter 2, Joseph Ball
Paul T. Taylor as James Hosty, Jr., Reporter 3
Ensemble: Maurice Johnson, Zak Reynolds, Anthony Fortino

Reviewed Performance 11/9/2013

Casa Mañana’s production of Oswald, The Actual Interrogation, is bold, poignant and considered controversial, but above all else an example of excellence in live theatre!

“We know he did it, now get him to admit it...”

Whatever your position is regarding one of this country’s most difficult and controversial events in history, an interesting lesson is taught in this powerful production. It’s not glorifying or promoting the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald and those around him on that fateful day; nor is it ignoring the most storied President of our country, John F. Kennedy. The lesson is simple: whatever our life’s path is, who we encounter and/or what decisions we make . . . we are ALL human beings.

Playwright Dennis Richard has created a well-organized and versed accounting of two lone men in a room, removed from the chaos that is unfolding outside. There were no steno, audio, video or tape recordings of those interrogations, just the handwritten notes of Captain Fritz that were later presented to the Warren Commission along with other accounts of the events. Mr. Dennis has been noted as saying, “Over ninety percent of what Lee Harvey Oswald says in my play is documented as having been said or is believed to have been said by people in and out of the interrogation room.”

Director Casey Hushion follows through with his excellent casting and staging of the work. All the action takes place in that room, holding a desk, a chair and the two men. Casting needed to be superb, not only in physical representations of historical figures (which is frightfully close) but also in their acting abilities; both those and much more is achieved with extraordinary success. Ms. Hushion relies on the author’s text to energize or subdue the scene and chooses the perfect moments within that writing for powerful interaction with her actors. You are completely engaged throughout the entire performance and never distracted from the storyline as it unfolds.

Colt Frank’s scenic design is masterful. The large proscenium stage at Casa Mañana is transformed into an oversized and a bit askew replication of the actual interrogation room in the original Dallas Police Department’s building. I say replication and not representation because it is very clear people had visited the original and took very detailed notes. From the green color of the ceramic-coated cinderblock walls to the glass in the door, all are wonderful replicas of not just a time gone by but a cold and unfeeling room specifically designed to get answers from people. I had been in the original room on a film shoot recently and instantly had goose bumps when I saw the stage. I also really like the sharp angles of the brick pillars and top of the proscenium that give the entire stage a “not quite right” feeling.

Lighting design by Samuel Rushen continues the feeling of uneasiness and stark loneliness of the interrogation room. Although a relatively simple lighting design, the highlights to the set with harsh cuts mimicking the set angles create a stunning impact. The lighting in the scene recreating the shooting of Oswald from live action to a frozen “moment in time” is superb.

Jonathan Parke’s sound design is very well done and highly detailed. Every moment the door opens you hear the murmur of over two hundred reporters that were waiting outside the room during the interrogation. Mr. Parke’s design adds wonderful subtleties and distinctive layers to the production and never detracts from it.

Costume design by Tammy Spencer is period perfect and executed very well. The majority of the costumes, like the actors, have to be perfect historical replications, which she accomplishes. I doubt there are many people who wouldn’t recognize that white T-shirt from the infamous booking photo or the cowboy hat and glasses Captain Fritz wore. Special detail to all the supporting characters is also well executed, with obvious attention to detail paid to items like the Dallas Police Officers’ uniforms and reporters’ clothing from the sixties.

Brad Peterson’s video design added another splendid technical layer to the production. Full stage projections of typewritten text delineating time and details of the interrogations, and archival footage placed in perfect locations envelope you and truly make the scenes poignancy stand out.

This show’s success lands directly on the shoulders of the entire cast, all of whom deliver simply extraordinary performances with true talent and professionalism.

Ben Williams as the title character Lee Harvey Oswald delivers a spectacular performance every moment of the production. He bears a striking physical resemblance to Oswald, so much so it is a bit unnerving. Credit to the director for seeing past his attractive professional headshot seen in the playbill to the character that is hidden within. All looks aside, Mr. Williams is a remarkable performer who commands the stage. He easily takes you through a myriad of powerful emotions, some like a flip of a switch, and holds your attention throughout. The role has an enormous amount of lines to deliver and he never leaves the stage; a truly taxing role for any actor but not once did Mr. Williams falter.

The lead investigator/interrogator Captain Will Fritz is played by Ed Dixon with tremendous talent and strength. This is another extremely line-heavy and taxing role made to look effortless by Mr. Dixon. His power and prowess over Oswald is engaging and honest. Then transitioning from compassion to unyielding accusation with a true understanding of the events unfolding around him and the young man accused of the horrific crime are just as powerful. Mr. Dixon is a true master of his craft and shows that in every moment of the production.

Bob Hess as ADA Bill Alexander and Bob Reed as Detective Jim Leavelle are both direct, concise and provide great depth to their respective historical characters. They portray a host of emotions and never once stray from the path of the story. It is a true pleasure to watch them perform.

Officer Sims, played by Montgomery Sutton, is a truly talented young man. His supporting role could be thrown away with no depth or personality added to the character but that is definitely not the case with Mr. Sutton. He has chosen great definition and gives the role purpose. His portrayal actually made me wonder just how much the actual officer, during those fateful days, really heard, knew and told others. To have an audience question that within the realm of a supporting role is a true testament of his talent.

Bill Jenkins playing the major historical figures Jack Ruby and Judge Johnston proves again his talent as an actor and his performance is professionally honed. He gives distinct personalities to all the roles he plays, each with their own finesse and purpose. You never feel as if you’re watching the same actor in the different roles which is just one example of Mr. Jenkins’ talent.

In the primary role of James Hosty, Jr., Paul T. Taylor is always on mark with his deliveries and makes excellent choices with his character. You are always engaged when Mr. Taylor is on stage.

Supporting the principal characters in the production, Maurice Johnson, Zak Reynolds and Anthony Fortino round out this remarkable cast. Each in their respective roles adds depth and definition to all their scenes, making it a pleasure to see them perform in this production.

It takes great courage and dedication in the true meaning of artistic works when presenting something that could be considered controversial to arts patrons. Pressure comes from many sides and to hold to the conviction of true Art, especially when dealing with historical works, is something Casa Mañana producers should be very proud of. As mentioned above, Oswald, The Actual Interrogation teaches and reminds us of a very important lesson in life often forgotten in today’s societies. Whatever path we choose or faults we have . . . we are ALL human.

Richard S. Blake
www.richardsblake.com

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