Review: A Front Row Seat at "Jackie Unveiled"

Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

Walking into the Lovelace Studio Theatre, scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture replicates Jacqueline Kennedy’s elegant living room inside her Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. Under a bench is the board game Risk, and children’s toys are carefully placed around the room to clue the audience that John-John and Caroline live here too.

Lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg focuses a spotlight on a campaign hat sitting on Jackie’s coffee table with the name Kennedy wrapped around the crown. As the house lights dim, sound designer Randall Robert Tico alerts the audience to what time period this is in Jackie’s life. It’s the 1960s as we hear gunshots and a rotary dial phone ring with urgency.

This dramatic opening continues throughout the 90-minute show, as we learn about the rise and fall of Camelot from one extraordinary woman.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York with “the three B’s - Beauty, Brains and Breeding.” Dressed in silk pajamas, with tears of mascara running down the beautiful and brilliant face of Saffron Burrows (star in Golden Globe winning “Mozart in the Jungle”), we learn that RFK has been shot. Jackie now has nothing to live for and is a pill popping, Scotch swilling (even though it tastes like tragedy) woman who feels unsafe. “Sunrises are too hopeful,” Burrows says with a rich voice full of texture. She “can’t go on and do this alone, she is no good alone,” so we watch her crumble before our eyes.

 (Photo: Luke Fontana)

(Photo: Luke Fontana)

Playwright Tom Dugan’s one woman show is beautifully written and directed by Jennifer Sullivan. This dynamic duo has worked together on another one of Dugan’s shows, Wiesenthal - An Ordinary Man Who Did Extraordinary Things. Together they guide the audience to learn how Jackie’s mind is “like a box of photos, all mixed up.”

Before intermission, we get a peek into Jackie’s life before Onassis. We discover Jackie’s childhood with a violent mother and alcoholic father. We discover some of the Kennedy secrets and Papa Joe’s advice to “Never let the public see you bleed.” It’s a play about diversion, loss, addictions, secrets, violence, war, Vietnam, and great compassion.

After Jack Kennedy dies, Jackie wants to die too, however Bobby Kennedy convinces her to stay alive, for they “have so much to live for.” Later when Bobby dies, Jackie stumbles around like a zombie. “If the new American sport is killing the Kennedy’s,” she has to protect her children and marry Aristotle Onassis. We learn she met him in 1955 when she and Jack first met Winston Churchill. When Jackie stepped onto his yacht, the Christina O, with “75 bodyguards,” she felt so safe.

Onassis was 30 years older than Jackie and quite a tyrant. When he dies, she moves back to New York, which is the opening of the second half of the play. Costume designer Marcy Froehlich dresses Burrows in a formal red pantsuit with a colorful scarf around her head. While anxiously waiting for a phone call from her doctor to give her news about her health, we learn “people can’t change, but they can learn.” The good and the bad are all interwoven, as we watch Jackie’s work on a photo collage while waiting for her children and grandchildren to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with her. Dugan offers some great lines including, “Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your own children,” and “I don’t need a man in my life, I want a man in my life.”

At the end of the show, we sympathize with the life this woman led from the day she was born to the day she is buried next to JFK in Arlington National Cemetery.