Theatre Review: "We'll Never Be Young Again"
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 service.

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 African-American actor 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.