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November 14, 2017
Review: The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald
Jeff Roth (Oswald) and Michelle Beshaw (Oswald's mother, Marguerite Claverie Oswald) with house puppet and small marionettes. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald at La MaMa ETC presented by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre and GOH Productions is a totally charming and interesting evening of theater. Notably, the work is less so a marionette or puppet show and really a theater piece with strong marionette and puppet elements; I only point that out to dissuade those that may lack experience or interest in the former form. In fact, in a way this work is a sweet introduction.

The work is as advertised, a devised history of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald with segments concerning Castro, the Kennedys, the Warren Report, and other aspects of the cultural event the eponymous character is at the heart of. This is a classic devised work, the scenes all concerned with the general theme and coalescing to create a collage of a piece of theater. By focusing on the Oswald narrative, the work has a narrative drive that is rather helpful both thematically and to ground the work’s style in a number of choices.

That style plays with performance planes, scope, and an effective movement and fever. The collaboration has a working motion that reveals the maturity, the understanding of the machinations of the medium of the makers. At a few moments, the scenes take on an impressive sophistication. During a re-enactment on Oswald’s attempted assassination of John Birch Society founder General Edwin Walker, the situation is created on three planes in two different sizes. General Walker and his cohorts are marionettes, Oswald is played by actor Jeffrey Roth, and Oswald’s wife Marina is played by actor Michelle Beshaw. Marina is upstage and has the width of the stage as her perceived space, Oswald down left and confined to just a small box of movement, and the marionettes have their little space center. The three planes take place simultaneously and seamlessly to create a dynamic moment.

Roth is a fantastic Oswald, with a twang to his voice that is so of the time and a ceaseless smirk across his face. The production asks him to adjust character objectives from one moment to the next, and it is always so clear how Oswald is feeling.

I really enjoyed the history of the piece, and as no Oswald historian, couldn’t tell what was history and what was invented. That is a wonderful ambiguity, that expands the horizons of what the work may be able to accomplish. That is an artful gift you should give to yourself.

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