Sile Bermingham, Brian Lee Franklin, Joe Hindy, Dan Lauria, William Mahoney, Paul Marius, Steve Mendillo, Barry Primus, Lisa Richards
At a time when film actors have been portraying such political figures as George W. Bush, Richard Nixon and Harvey Milk, Good Bobby uses the theater to examine the trials and tribulations of one of America’s ‘nearly men,’ Robert F. Kennedy.
Written by Brian Lee Franklin, who also plays the title role, Good Bobby explores both the political career and inner demons of Robert Kennedy from his time on the Senate Labor Rackets Committee in 1958 through to the aftermath of his brother’s assassination.
It provides an immensely private portrait of a man who is living in the shadow of his brothers, struggling to find his own voice, and consequently lashing out in frustration on a frequent basis. Franklin, who has been fascinated by Kennedy from an early age, utterly convinces as a person who, because of his underlying sensitivity, is forced to act tough in a way that doesn’t always suit him.
Consequently, as he confronts Jimmy Hoffa (Dan Lauria) in the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, and (as attorney general) negotiates with the Soviet, Nicholas Katzenbach (Paul Marius), he lurches between being intimidated and asserting himself in an unskilful and heavy handed manner.
Franklin is supported by a superb cast, which includes Steve Mendillo as Joe Kennedy. Intoxicated by the power of the Kennedy name, he is happy both to show his disappointment with Bobby and to use him to advance the family’s interests. Joe Hindy is also an effective CIA Agent, who has an air of authority about him that contrasts starkly with Bobby’s more sensitive persona.
Unfortunately, however, the play still seems to make a rather limited number of points about Robert Kennedy, which his continuing encounters with other characters only serve to re-iterate rather than advance. Franklin’s intention was to show what went behind the benevolent and sincere man who ran for president in 1968, and his original script did go right up until Robert’s own assassination.
In contrast, focusing on the period between 1958 and 1964 may keep the drama under control, but we only see a man who seems ill suited to the offices he holds and appears to be punching above his weight. As such, Bobby gains our sympathy when we see how he lives in the shadow of his brothers, but loses it just as quickly when we witness the ham fisted ways in which he exercises power.
The situation isn’t helped when at the end both John F. and Robert F. Kennedy are shown to be men who just want to make life better for others, because the statements to this effect simply sound like the type of propaganda we would expect from such a dynasty.Nevertheless, if Franklin’s intentions in writing the play are not entirely fulfilled, his and all the acting performances on offer ensure there is something to keep our attention throughout.