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Frame 312
Ordinary people can keep extraordinary secrets. That's the premise of Keith Reddin's intriguing new play, Frame 312, currently playing at Houston's Alley Theatre.

The central character, Lynette, seems to live an ordinary, suburban life. She has a daughter who's been on anti-depressant medication for the last two years and a son who is letting his marriage fall apart. On the occasion of Lynette's birthday -- her first since her husband died -- the family comes together to celebrate and, of course, spends most of the time arguing.

Played by Carlin Glynn, Lynette is a strong, capable woman who never seems able to express all that she feels inside. In the veteran actress's understated yet powerful performance, there always seems to be more behind what she's saying. When caught off-guard, it takes Lynette only a moment to recover. At times, she appears to be aloof; at other times, you can tell she's near to bursting with emotion. This is a woman used to keeping her thoughts to herself. Now, however, she's ready to reveal to her family a secret that she has been keeping for over 30 years: she owns the original Zapruder film of the assassination of JFK.

The play cuts back and forth through time, showing how Lynette came to possess the film as well as the fallout from her family members once the secret is revealed. "It's just a bit of a leap to connect you to this conspiracy shit," comments daughter Stephanie (Jenny Maguire). Reddin's title refers to the frame of the Zapruder film that shows the second bullet hitting the president. According to the play, the version of the film released to the public was edited in order to make it more plausible that there was only one shooter.

The wonderful Elizabeth Bunch plays Lynette as a young woman in the 1960s. A secretary at LIFE magazine, Lynette was one of the first people to see the infamous film once LIFE acquired the rights to it from Zapruder. She's also given the task of delivering it to F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover. However, in the world of the play, Lynette's boss (James Black) keeps the original and passes off a copy. The boss later entrusts the film to Lynette. Bunch strikes just the right balance between comic paranoia and emotionally grounded fear. A scene towards the end of the play demonstrates her range as she attempts to unload her anxieties upon her friend Margie (Stephanie Kurtzuba), only to pull back before doing so. It's a telling moment, showing how the Lynette of yesteryear became the close-guarded woman that the audience sees portrayed by Glynn.

Director Peter Masterson deserves praise for drawing such finely detailed performances from his lead actors. Unfortunately, he's not as adept with his supporting cast. While most of them give credible performances, the production is dragged down by Kurtzuba, who plays three different roles throughout the show. For each, she offers a broadly drawn caricature rather than a flesh and blood character; over the top accents and faked emotions jolt the viewer out of these scenes and throw the entire production off rhythm. Another drawback of the production is its tendency toward melodrama. Part of this results from Reddin's playwriting, which includes such overly dramatic pronouncements as "I try not to trust anyone," uttered by the young Lynette. A crucial moment at the end of the first act is likewise marred by a cheesy sound effect that belongs more in a suspense film than in a play such as this.

Aside from that questionable choice by sound designer Joe Pino, the production values of the show are quite strong. Scenic designer Kevin Rigdon makes good use of the theater's thrust stage, while Linda Ross's costumes demonstrate the differences in fashion between the play's two eras without going overboard. Rui Rita's lighting design is also to be commended for enhancing the mood at different points in the play and for clearly establishing shifts in time and location. Frame 312 may not shed any new light on the JFK assassination but it is a thoughtful and consistently engaging play. It wisely shies away from sensationalism, instead offering a quiet portrait of a woman with ordinary problems living in an ever so complex world.

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