Review: “Oswald” at Firehouse Theatre

oswald.jpg
  • Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic

The story of the infamous figure of Lee Harvey Oswald is of particular interest here just outside of Dallas, Texas. Over half a century ago, he became a household name not just in Texas, but across the world for gunning down the 46-year-old President in downtown Dallas. After the Kennedy assassination, the details of Oswald’s life were dissected, analyzed, and sensationalized to the point where few, including his widow, actually recognized the man they thought they knew.

What should we believe? Was he a lone gunman, inspired by Marxist ideology, hell-bent on making a name for himself by assassinating the President of the United States? Was he a patsy in a multi-national conspiracy seeking Kennedy’s removal from power? Or is the truth somewhere in between the two?

The developmental musical “Oswald” explores this treacherous terrain, which is one of the darkest chapters of the American story, through a unique production where two versions of Oswald’s persona play out simultaneously. Written by Broadway stars Tony LePage and Josh Sassanella, “Oswald” permits the audience a brief glimpse behind the public mask of Lee Harvey to see him through the eyes of his widow, Marina Oswald-Porter. Marina takes us on a journey through her memories of the young, idealistic former US Marine she met and married in Soviet Russia during the height of the Cold War. Together, their story unfolds through a series of vignettes.

Although initial focus appears firmly fixed on the two competing images of Oswald, the story quickly swerves off this road and into his widow’s interpretation of events. This path casts the spotlight of the production directly on Marina and highlights the pain and struggle she endured alongside her erratic and, seemingly tortured, husband. “Marina,” performed by Tina Stafford and “Young Marina” played by Katie Moyes Williams, both delivered powerful, emotionally-fueled performances in which we witness a struggle to reconcile fading memories of the man she thought she knew with the heinous crime he allegedly committed.

The two performers playing competing personas of Lee Harvey Oswald failed to elicit enough of a distinction to drive home the point of the story. Was Lee Harvey a loose cannon fueled by rage and desire for notoriety or was he a troubled young man caught up in a transnational conspiracy involving the CIA, FBI, Cuba and the mafia? “Oswald” did not explore this terrain thoroughly enough to make a clear enough separation between the two and, ultimately, left the production feeling flat.

Don’t expect any earth-shattering revelations about Lee Harvey in “Oswald.” At its core, it is a story very much focused on Marina’s emotional account of the man she thought she knew and the painful daily reminders she continues to endure decades after the Kennedy assassination. Currently in development, “Oswald,” is on a trajectory for future success as it will undoubtedly continue to grow and mature on its path.

 

“Oswald,” written by Tony LePage and Josh Sassanella and directed by Randi Kleiner stars Justin Mortelitti as “Lee,” Tony LePage as “Oswald,” Tina Stafford as “Marina,” and Katie Moyes Williams as “Young Marina.” Ensemble members include Devin Berg, Allison Bret, Laura Lites, Kimberly Pine, Ashley Ricci, Joseph Burnam, Alex Heika, Sadat Hossain, Brett Ricci, Dan Servetnick, and Brandon Whitlock.

Learn more about upcoming productions at the Firehouse Theatre by visiting thefirehousetheatre.com or calling the box office at 972-620-3747.

Photo Credit:  Pendleton Photography