By Jeff Ritter
Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. A day that America will never forget. The day Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John. F. Kennedy. Two days later, nightclub owner Jack Ruby gunned down Oswald while he was in police custody. Ruby claimed that he wanted to spare Mrs. Kennedy from the difficulty of reliving her husband’s assassination at trial. Did Oswald act solely on his Marxist leanings and disdain for Kennedy’s policies? Did his poor upbringing under the domination of his overbearing mother Marguerite factor into it?
That’s the question that “Mama’s Boy” attempts to answer. The Tesseract Theatre Company is presenting this new play by Rob Urbinati in a regional premiere.
Marguerite Oswald was once referred to by CBS News’ Bob Schieffer as “one of the most peculiar people I have ever encountered.” No doubt Schieffer met many unusual folks during his storied career. Donna Parrone, a veteran of the St. Louis theater scene who has returned from a 10-year hiatus, emphasizes Schieffer’s summation.
Her Marguerite was immediately dislikable and manipulative, at times a deeply disturbing portrayal of a mother who may have loved her son a bit too much. She certainly lived in a complete fantasy world regarding his place in history.
Brandon Atkins plays Lee Harvey Oswald as a generally affable fellow when he returns from Russia with his new wife, Marina, played by Carly Uding. Atkins’ Oswald starts to get edgier as adjusting from life in Russia while watched by the FBI takes a mental toll on him, but Atkins plays him with more restraint than one might expect an assassin to have. With his mother’s constant harping and clear favoritism of Lee over his brother Robert, played by Jeremy Goldmeier, one might have understood if Oswald had assassinated his mother first.
Carly Uding is a revelation in “Mama’s Boy,” keeping a very believable and completely self-taught Russian accent throughout the performance. She nearly stole the show from Donna Parrone, and it was a joy to see two strong actresses command the attention of their audience in a show that with a male subject.
Lee Harvey Oswald might be the mama’s boy the title refers to, but it’s definitely Marguerite’s show. Carly was interesting to watch a few years ago in “Trick and Antonia,” but she seemed much more confident now. She is leading lady material for any production.
Jeremy Goldmeier is also fun to watch. He plays the buffer role of Robert, a man both weary and wary of his mother, whom he purposely fails to invite to his home for the holidays. He loves his brother but isn’t blind to Lee’s anger with America, and he may care more for Marina than a married, God-fearing Texan should admit.
Goldmeier plays Robert with a soft touch, making him seem like the most reasonable member of the Oswald clan. It’s important in a show with only four principle characters that there be at least one smooth, calm voice among the angry, the confused and the crazy so the audience doesn’t wear out from the chaos, and Goldmeier performed that vital role admirably.
Then there are the Shadows. Four women dressed in all black, faces exposed but with painted on domino masks around their eyes. When the show started, it seemed like they were going to do an interpretive dance, a peculiar addition to a gritty, dark, and controversial moment in American history.
However Lydia Aiken, Kathryn Kent, Alexa Moore, and Melody Valen Quinn are visual interpretations of all four actors’ inner thoughts and turmoil. They are also functionally the ensemble without songs, occasionally sliding into various small roles like FBI interrogators, or the media, even while dancing.
Melody Valen Quinn has an uncanny ability to mimic a crying baby so realistically that she might fool you into believing the doll used to represent Lee and Marina’s baby June is a real child. Her vocal effects heighten tensions perfectly when the adults start arguing and upset the baby. It’s ironic, in a way, that the most abstract part of the production helped make the scenes feel more realistic.
The lighting flowed smoothly from scene to scene as appropriate, thanks to Kevin J. Bowman’s lighting design and Alex Bowman’s deft touch on the light board controls. Tanya Shea’s choreography seemed a strange fit at the very beginning but by the end you’re as engaged in what the Shadows are doing as you are the Oswald family drama, and that is no small feat.
The set is relatively sparse but functional, consisting mostly of a couch that changes coverings as the scenes shift, a small vintage television and an end table littered with Communist propaganda and old books. The TV sits on a small dresser that doubles as a poor crib for the Oswald baby.
Director Brad Schwartz has constructed an interesting drama that is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and other times deeply disturbing. The entire cast and crew should be proud of their production.
Tesseract Theatre Company’s production of “Mama’s Boy” is presented from Sept. 21 – 30, Friday through Sunday. For more information on “Mama’s Boy” including tickets and show times, please visit www.TesseractTheatre.org