San Jose Stage Company's
New Production of RFK

One-man show RFK explores the life, loves and demons of Robert F. Kennedy
RFK WHO KILLED THE KENNEDYS? David Arrow plays Robert F. Kennedy in San Jose Stage Company's new production, RFK.

A plaque in San Jose's St. James Park marks the spot where, in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a rousing speech to an audience of 10,000, shortly after announcing his candidacy for U.S. president. By June of that year, shortly after winning the California primary, he was dead from an assassin's bullet. Since he's memorialized in San Jose, it's fitting that the regional premiere of RFK, a one-man play commemorating his life, is being presented by the San Jose Stage Company.

Written by Jack Holmes, who starred in the titular role during the play's first run, RFK is a one-way conversation between Kennedy (David Arrow) and the audience. It takes place, loosely, over the last four years of Kennedy's life, from his final months as Attorney General after the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, to his own untimely death. But the vignettes offered by Kennedy meander in and out of chronological order, winding back to his childhood, early career, and back again in a stream-of-consciousness style—allowing the audience to experience multiple facets of Kennedy's personality.

1 We see him as one of the youngest in the large, prominent Kennedy clan—overshadowed by his elder brothers Joe and Jack and undervalued by his father. We see him in "Ruthless Robert" mode, tenacious as a bulldog and willing to do whatever it takes, even at the risk of his own reputation, to get JFK into the White House. We see him as the Attorney General, relentless in his pursuit of organized crime and corruption in labor unions. We see him him nervous and unconfident in his campaign to become a New York senator, less polished and comfortable with public speaking than his idolized brother.

A father of 11, he's happiest at home with his beloved wife Ethel—surrounded by pets, his cadre of spirited children and playing football with his siblings. We catch glimpses of his affectionate, good-natured relationship with his younger brother, Teddy (that's the late Mass. Senator Ted Kennedy to us), and many references to his very close relationship with Jack's widow, First Lady Jackie Kennedy. We also see his antagonistic relationship with JFK's vice president and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, a swaggering, uncouth Texan with whom he butted heads at every turn.

Politically, we see RFK slowly become a leading voice for progressivism as the turbulent 1960s roll on. Though he admittedly didn't think much about civil rights in his youth, he becomes a driving force for desegregation in Southern schools, battling resistant mayors and governors in Mississippi and Alabama while continuing a complicated dialogue with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Most interesting are his changing views on the doomed war in Vietnam. At first we see him as voting for increased military action, then, as his reservations grow, afraid to contradict Johnson's pro-war policy. Eventually he emerges as an outspoken war opponent.

The 1960s, with all their sweeping social and cultural changes, have become a bit of a cliché to represent through music, with folky protest songs and angry rock numbers. However overdone, the music really does capture the spirit of the era. The songs are still effective and affecting, and RFK utilizes them well. I also appreciated how director Randall King's choreographed the show. The simple office set allows Yarrow a surprising range of motion. He's constantly roaming the stage, creating the illusion of different times and locations. His suit jacket serves at one point as JFK; a chair, his wheelchair-bound father.

With any one-man show, obviously, so much rests on the shoulders of that one man. And Yarrow does an impressive job on the whole. With his floppy hair and wide grin, he nails the Kennedy look. The sheer number of words he had to memorize and the time he has to spend talking is evidence of mind-boggling endurance, and he imbues the role with the charisma and genuine passion of the real RFK. If he stumbles over a few words or his accent gets a little iffy at times, one can hardly gripe about it. He certainly earned the appreciative ovation he received.

RFK's death is one of the great "what-ifs" in modern history. How might the nation's course have been different had he become president instead of Richard Nixon? We'll never know what he might have accomplished, but RFK is a worthy tribute to his legacy.


Thru Oct 25, $30-$65

San Jose Stage Company

Find Art Events

Type: Area:
List your event with Metroactive