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Joel Sandel on Why Now Was the Perfect Time to Re-Stage RFK

Joel Sandel as RFK
Joel Sandel as RFK
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography

When Main Street Theater began casting about for one-person shows that would more easily fit into the restrictions caused by a pandemic, veteran Houston actor Joel Sandel immediately thought of RFK and the title role he'd played in it in 2016.

"We did RFK last time during the last presidential election and it just seemed like a natural fit right now.."

And especially with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Sandel thought it was even more important to tell the story of a political figure who outgrew the privilege he was raised with and who eventually embraced the civil rights movement.

"It really hit me that Bobby Kennedy was really a Black Lives Matter candidate before that term existed," Sandel said in a phone interview. "I was reading an article that at the time called him the most trusted white man in black America."

Because of Actors Equity restrictions, Sandel says, they were not able to perform and film the play at Main Street Theater. "We had to film it here in my house. It ended up working fine. It was different. It was interesting to see my living room that we gutted," he says laughing.

Although Sandel has done some film work, most of his working life has been devoted to being a stage actor, he says, so it took some reconfiguration on his part to adjust to the closer camera angles.

"Scaling back getting to play directly to the camera, there’s a luxury to that but there's also as an actor is how much the audience is missed by an actor. There's a term we use in the theater that's called 'feeling the house.' It's the energy that comes off human beings as you’re communicating to them that elevates what you do.

"So this was different. I'm playing to a camera and it's dead. So I'm having to I guess in some ways get deeper into the truth of the moment I'm having."

The story starts nine months after John F. Kennedy's assassination, wanders back in time before that and then  leads up to RFK's assassination.

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Sandel points out that RFK and Martin Luther King — "These two men who represented real change in terms of racial discord in this country." — were both killed within months of each other.

"Bobby was clueless about civil rights when he started out. But he being an inquisitive person and an empathetic person, he went into the ghettos. He started really looking into it first hand. And he got on fire with the whole civil rights movement," Sandel says.

"It really is inspirational. It shows that no matter where you are in your journey it’s not to late to have a change of heart, to grow, to learn."

RFK is now streaming through October 25. To order tickets, visit mainstreettheater.com. $25 is suggested, but as Main Street says, “times are tough,” and will gladly accept $15.

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