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Theater Mon Aug 24 2015

Assassination Theater Raises Old and New Questions About the Kennedy Assassination(s)

Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture
Mark Ulrich and Martin Yurek. Photo by Michael Brosilow

If you're a news junkie who enjoys being immersed in fascinating facts about our political and criminal history, then I have a theater recommendation for you. Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century spells out in rapid-fire data points how we have been misled all these years about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. And that of his brother Robert five years later.

Journalist Hillel Levin, who has explored the activities of the Chicago Outfit before, has created a gripping two-hour-plus documentary-style production that details the assassination and its aftermath, including an autopsy that was covered up by the White House and FBI leadership. Their goal was to confirm the single-bullet, single-crazed-shooter story and to keep the American people from thinking that a conspiracy was involved.

Director Kevin Christopher Fox choreographs this massive outpouring of facts by four Equity actors and on three screens at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Michael Joseph Mitchell narrates as Levin, and his partner, FBI agent Zechariah Shelton, is capably played by Mark Ulrich. Ryan Kitley and Martin Yurek each play multiple parts with quick accessory and dialect changes.

The story line of Assassination Theater offers persuasive evidence that the JFK autopsy was falsified and the real facts covered up then and in the 1964 Warren Commission report. Levin's information also strongly suggests the Chicago mob was involved and links the acknowledged JFK assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby, the Dallas strip club owner who shot and killed Oswald while he was in police custody. Sirhan Sirhan, who killed Robert Kennedy in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen, is also linked to the web of mob connections.

Robert Kennedy had been chief counsel of the 1956 McClellan committee and vigorously investigated connections between labor and organized crime. These investigations could well have triggered (pardon the pun) the Outfit's involvement. So I wasn't surprised when the narration tied the mob connection to the assassination of Robert Kennedy during his Presidential campaign in June 1968. But to me, the story goes off the rails by suggesting a tie to the attack on Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chicago mayor Anton Cermak in Miami in 1933. A gunman was said to be aiming at Roosevelt but shot Cermak instead; the mayor died several weeks later.

As Assassination Theater ends, Levin and Shelton demand we take these facts seriously, educate ourselves and others so that the 50-year-old mystery can be resolved.

"Boosting the Big Tuna," Levin's 2007 Playboy article, described the 1978 burglary of mob chief Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo's River Forest home. After the article was published, Levin says on his website, "I was approached by FBI agent Zechariah (Zack) Shelton, who was featured prominently in the story. Zack suggested I next do 'the real story about the mob.' When I asked him what that would be, he replied, 'How they killed JFK.'"

You might ask: Is Assassination Theater a new theater company that will specialize in mordant docudramas on assassinations? There's no end of examples and material available. But this is a one-off production by writer Levin, who funded it partially with a 2014 Kickstarter campaign.

Warren Levon's sound and light board work adds drama to the simple set and minimal props. The playbill includes a two-page organization chart of the "the overworld and the underworld" in the story, plus a list of readings and websites for further exploration.

My rating for Assassination Theater is 3 stars for news junkies, 2 stars for normal people. I think it's a powerful story--albeit about 15 minutes too long--and I enjoyed the rapid-fire recitation of facts about events that I remembered or had read about. On the other hand, my friend reached the TMI point early in the second act.

Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century runs for 12 weeks (until November 7) at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St. You can buy $49 tickets online or by calling 800-838-3006. Performances are at varying times Wednesday through Sunday, with two shows on weekend days. The second floor theater at the museum is not an ideal space for the audience. The seats are uncomfortable and the floor is flat, not raked, so try to sit near the front if you're short.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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