Brian Lee Franklin in Good Bobby
(© Ed Krieger)
Brian Lee Franklin in Good Bobby
(© Ed Krieger)
Without knowing the context of his life, one might look at Robert F. Kennedy's record of public service and wonder why anyone would write a play like Good Bobby, now at 59E59 Theaters. After all, Kennedy served less than one full term in the Senate, spent only four years as Attorney General of the United States, and ran for President but died at the hands of an assassin's bullet well before his nomination could be secured.

But anyone who lived during the 1960s -- those turbulent years when Bobby Kennedy emerged from the shadow of his slain brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- knows that RFK might be the most tragic Kennedy of them all. And the triumph of writer and star Brian Lee Franklin is that sense of tragedy is magnified not by making Bobby more mythic, but rather by making him more tangibly human. This is a Bobby Kennedy racked with anger and doubt and driven by the dynamics of America's most beloved dysfunctional family.

Director Pierson Blaetz keeps the large canvas of the play in sharp focus at all times; however, the production can be criticized for all sorts of minor theatrical infractions. Perhaps the most noticeable is that the cast's accents (or the lack of them) are all over the map. It seems impossible that Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of this Irish Catholic family has virtually no Irish or New England accent, while his wife, Rose, has that sweet lilt in spades. Meanwhile, Franklin captures Bobby's unusual halting speech pattern with, at least, the sense of an accent.

Nonetheless, the play manages the uncanny feat of encompassing Bobby's entire adult life against the backdrop of the larger history of his era, including his famed clashes with labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the suggestion of Marilyn Monroe's murder, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, dealings with the Mafia, the death of President Kennedy (even the Warren Commission Report), and Bobby's ultimate decision to run for the Senate in New York (which immediately signaled to the nation his ambition to eventually run for President). Through the judicial use of archival footage that often introduces various scenes, we also get a powerful visual reminder of the historical context in which the action unfolds.

As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Bobby is, if not the smartest Kennedy, the most ruthless. His saving grace, though, is that he is fully aware of the terrible things that he's done and he suffers for them. How can we admire a man who has trafficked in duplicity, murder, and political assassination? To some extent, we don't.

In addition to Franklin, who finds the humanity within the myth of Bobby Kennedy, Good Bobby has some equally good cast members. Among the standouts, Dan Lauria is charismatic as Jimmy Hoffa, William Mahoney is wonderfully avuncular as Senator John McClellan, Lisa Richards is impressive as Rose Kennedy, and Barry Primus is very effective as the Russian ambassador Dobrynin.