Theatre Review: "We'll Never Be
By Sonny California
The history of the United States was irrevocably changed on November 22,
1963 when person or persons unknown engineered the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy. "We'll Never Be Young Again" is a celebration
of the happiness and sadness millions of Americans felt during those
three heady years when Kennedy energized a generation, challenging us to
live out our long-stated American "can do" values, until he was brutally
shot down in a collapse of security so immense and a failure of criminal
investigation so extraordinary that something like 85% of Americans do
not believe the official story of those events.
But all you get here is the emotion.
From the earliest days when Kennedy brought charisma and youth to a
world of deadened political senses to those storied days of "Camelot"
when one man told us how great a nation we could be, and finally to the
haunting drumbeat as Kennedy's coffin was interred beneath an "eternal
flame" at Arlington National Cemetery, this theatrical event evokes the
classic emotions that captivated mainstream America in 1963.
The play is built up primarily from letters that feel soliticed from
"people who had ... recollections" -- 90% of whom seem to be movers and
shakers in the entertainment biz, although there is a smattering of 6
year old girls and ordinary people -- all written in the first person
and the present tense, all relating a special moment when the writer
felt moved in one of the standard directions by the personal or
televised presence of JFK: hero worship at his exaggerated greatness,
horror at his assassination by a lone gunman, and so forth. They are
strung together with bits of heavy-handed narration and sure fire
quotations from the big man's most famous speeches. There's not a single
piece of unconventional material.
There are no surprises, not even much of a dramatic arc -- unless you
count moving from happiness to sadness in a straight line. The play
covers only the most superficial and public events and benchmarks --
including his election, inauguration, excerpts from a few famous
speeches, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination and funeral
There is no talk -- not even a hint -- of any controversy, not about
Oswald the "lone gunman," not about his murder in the midst of a police
station by a questionable character who had no business being there --
especially while carrying a handgun, nothing about the controversial
"fourth shot" in Dealey Plaza, or the "single bullet theory." That's not
quite true. The words "grassy knoll" do appear in the text several
times. If you're up on your JFK Conspiracy Theories, you know this
phrase is a marker for much of the controversy that still surrounds what
many believe to have been a "coup d'etat" that day in Dallas.
But slipping in a couple of phrases is not nearly enough. To replay the
emotions of the JFK Assassination this way without any mention of the
known facts, the proven distortions, the information covered up and
secreted away for 75 years, the autopsy anomalies, the deaths of so many
key witnesses, the 1979 finding by the House Select Committee on
Assassinations that Kennedy was assassinated by Oswald "probably... as a
result of a conspiracy," is to short-change the audience. The only
conclusion I can draw is that this is a play conceived by a marketing guy
-- no doubt the same guy who got the idea to "write" the book from which
the play was forcibly extracted, a project green-lighted because of its
connection with so many "players" within the entertainment business, the
whole thing apparently put together with the sole aim of selling us back
our history -- one ticket at a time.
My friends and I attended a "staged reading," so the action, costumes,
lighting, and sound were all minimal. Actors merely read the narration
or stepped forward from their chairs to offer a brief soliloquy taken
from some first person account. Even so, "We'll Never Be Young Again" is
long, lame, maudlin and mawkish. Most of the actors in this production
have weak voices, and -- just to top it all off -- the producers and
director evidence their conventionality and lack of 21st Century
consciousness by hiring one African-American actor to do all the
African-American parts and
one Latino actor to do all the Latino parts. While they let the Latino
actor do a few non-Latino parts too, they don't give the
even that much consideration.
Commercially, "We'll Never Be Young Again" is likely
to be a tremendous success, in any incarnation. After all, it gives audiences a gold-plated
opportunity to re-experience the high emotions that marked a key turning
point in their young lives. How many will be unwilling to go? and having gone,
how many will be unready to like it? Pablum is like that.