Robert F. Kennedy was a man different from his brothers, a son whose father didn't think much of him for a long time and who was closest to his mother.
He was also a member of a clan equal parts mythic and tragic in American history and as such, continues to hold a certain fascination for many members of the U.S. public.
When Houston actor Joel Sandel started scouting about for a one-man play a couple of years ago, he seized on RFK: A Portrait of Robert Kennedy from among all the scripts he was reading. He wanted to plunge into it immediately, but Main Street Theater had just entered its extensive renovation period, so he set it aside.
Recently, while sitting at the Alley Theatre's production of All the Way, the tale of the LBJ presidency and the fight for the Civil Rights Act in which Bobby Kennedy makes a glancing appearance, Sandel remembered the one-man, two-act play he'd picked up and put down and thought he'd give it another try now that Main Street has completed its remodeling.
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He took the script to Main Street Theater Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden and in short order, he was scheduled for this July. “It starts in 1964 [a few months after the assassination of his brother John], but moves around in time back to the '50s. There's a sort of sequential pattern where he was attorney general and then running for president. It ends in his assassination,” Sandel says.
Despite these heavy themes and the fact that Robert Kennedy was not getting along with Lyndon Baines Johnson, Sandel says there are light moments throughout, particularly as RFK interacts with his children [there were ten of them, with another on the way when he died.] RFK was close to his mother, Rose, not especially appreciated by his father, Joe, and was [for the most part] devoted to his wife, Ethel, Sandel says.
The play is especially relevant for modern audiences, Sandel says. “Everything Bobby Kennedy spoke about back in the '60s is absolutely relevant today. These words are so wise and rational and peace-loving. You just want to go: Where is this person today?”
RFK will run in repertory with Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-A** Wit of Molly Ivins.July 16 through August 14 at 7:30 p.m.. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Main Street Theater Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $36-$39.