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RFK: “The Journey to Justice”

Adriana Pratt | Monday, January 25, 2010

From passive political patron to passionate justice torchbearer, Robert F. Kennedy’s life of transformation and maturation showed how one man’s dedication to greatness could affect the lives of millions and alter the course of a nation. L.A. Theatre Works’ original production, “RFK: The Journey to Justice” took a unique approach to depicting the life of one of America’s heroes and successfully showed the important role Kennedy played in the attainment of civil rights.
Though not as famous as his presidential brother John, Robert Kennedy’s involvement in the chase for racial equality was crucial to bringing the issue to the forefront of politics. The L.A. Theatre Works’ presentation showed how Kennedy’s behind-the-scenes involvement began solely for the purpose of winning John votes and ended as the primary focus of his own political career.
The play’s raw approach to the story of “Bobby” was unusual, but interesting. Instead of putting on a performance full of set changes and elaborate costumes, “RFK: The Journey to Justice” was presented as a radio docudrama, the style of theatre L.A. Theatre Works is known for.
The sound effects were created by a man who sat on stage, both he and his equipment visible to the audience. The actors carried their scripts to the string of spot lit microphones and flipped the pages as they recited their parts. The overall result was that one could close his eyes and feel the story come to life without relying on visual images for reinforcement.
At first, the approach seemed a little unprofessional because it did not require the actors to memorize their lines (though most did) and also took away the magic of behind-the-scenes effects. Once audience members moved past those details, however, they quickly and easily became enveloped in the scenes of ‘60s politics and interracial interactions.
The writers of the play, Murray Horwitz and Jonathan Estrin, produced a script that highlighted Kennedy’s initial naïveté, humility, perseverance and humor and brought to life each major character that played a part in the development of civil rights. Since the play used conversation as its central medium, the script was the most crucial aspect of the show. Horwitz and Estrin did not disappoint.
The actors, who mimicked Bostonian and Latino accents and even perfected the unmistakable tones of Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., made it easy to forget that they were solely imitators of real men and women. Henry Clarke (RFK) mastered the expressions and inflections of Bobby and even had the hair to match. Kevin Daniels (MLK) powerfully bellowed the words of King, exciting both his fellow actors and the audience. Some actors played multiple personas, but their talent and slight prop change kept audiences from being confused.
The best part of the performance was the historical value. Because of its intimate style, the audience felt like they were getting the inside scoop on the true persona of Bobby Kennedy and seeing first-hand his challenging interactions with national figures on both sides of the civil rights’ spectrum. It was easy to see how he began as a crusader for John’s political career, pulling strings and appeasing leaders for votes, then blossomed into a crusader for an even more challenging cause. Once he visited the downtrodden and discriminated and saw life in their shoes, there was no turning back.
RFK: The Journey to Justice” reminds audiences that it is never too late to sympathize with and show compassion for humanity. Taking a step back from distracting goal-oriented details that prevent us from seeing the big picture will ultimately allow us to realize the purpose of our existence. For Bobby, his was to change the world.