Written & Directed by Vít Hořejš
Produced by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Experimental Play
Runs through 11.19.2017
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 74A East 4th Street
by Lexi Orphanos on 11.13.17
Michelle Beshaw, Valois Mickens, and Deborah Beshaw-Farrell in The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald. Photo by Coraline Yijie Wang.
BOTTOM LINE: The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald is not your typical puppet show; leave the kids at home for this biographical evening of true crime.
In The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald, the Czechoslavak-American Marionette Theatre creates a surprisingly fun, interactive environment for exploring one of our nation's darker chapters. Oswald was a black sheep, a pariah since grade school. John F. Kennedy, our "Caesar" from the start of The Life and Times, was born into the cake-and-ice-cream American life, and was no stranger to greatness. While most are familiar with the history of JFK, his assassin is known, more often, simply as "JFK's assassin." Here, the ensemble explores what transformed him from a coddled mama's boy to an enemy of the people.
What makes The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald stand out in the realm of true-crime theatre is the presence of marionettes. It feels similar to elementary school assemblies, where local performers come in and teach lessons on peer pressure or bullying with their puppet friends. This marriage of puppetry and treason is a wise choice on creator/director Vít Hořejš' part. We have all seen documentaries on criminals or tragedies filled with interviews and photo stills, but rarely do we encounter assassination stories told Sesame Street-style.
In this experimental world of precisely-handled marionettes, the ensemble also performs stylized movement pieces, choreographed by Martha Tornay. They craft a chess game with only their hands and fingers moving through space, and later depict JFK's sexual exploits, using only puppets. The marionettes give the play a highly presentational feel, but this should not be mistaken for a family-friendly evening. The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald caters to true-crime fans, yet there's a whimsy about it that one might find in an improv show. All around, an evening worthy of a chuckle.
(The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald plays at La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street, through November 19, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $20 and are available at lamama.org or by calling 212-352-3100.)
The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald is written and directed by Vít Hořejš. Set and Costume Design by Michelle Beshaw. Choreography by Martha Tornay. Lighting Design by Federico Restrepo. Original Design Concepts by Theresa Linnihan. Additional Design by David Michael Friend. Ventriloquist Dummies by Václav Krčál. Marionettes by Milos Kasal.
The cast is Deborah Beshaw-Farrell, Michelle Beshaw, Vít Hořejš, Sarah Lafferty, Valois Mickens, Jon L. Peacock, Jeffrey Roth, and Ben Watts.