Hillel Levin uses theater as a metaphor in this presentation of a pair of JFK conspiracy theories, but that doesn’t make it theatrical.
Alternate theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, says the onstage stand-in for journalist Hillel Levin, are right up there with Roswell and Area 51 in having “made conspiracy into a dirty word.” That doesn’t stop Levin, a former editor of Chicago magazine, from presenting a doozy of a conspiracy theory here—or really, two.
Based on Levin’s interviews with a retired FBI agent named Zechariah Shelton, a sort of armchair detective with professional-investigator connections, the piece uses Levin and Shelton as its main characters, played here by Michael Joseph Mitchell and Mark Ulrich respectively; two additional actors, Ryan Kitley and Martin Yurek, step in and out to embody the various figures they invoke, from Robert Kennedy to Lee Harvey Oswald.
Levin and Shelton make two cases. Act I focuses on the usual suspects, as it were: the Zapruder film, the magic bullet, the grassy knoll. Their version is strongest in its indictment of the government reaction to the president’s killing, referencing accounts of FBI agents who were in the room for the autopsy at Bethesda that differ from what’s described in the Warren Commission Report. Whether or not you believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, Levin avers, it was in the government’s interest to convince the public that he did.
The more provocative argument comes in Act II, when the pair assert their theory that the gunman on the grassy knoll was a small-time mobster connected to the Chicago Outfit. The assassination of JFK, in this version of events, was orchestrated by the mob in retaliation for Robert F. Kennedy’s attempts as his brother’s attorney general to crack down on organized crime. The case is plausible, inasmuch as you can follow it—the story gets harder to track in this passage, when the named players are mostly little-known mafiosos rather than public figures and more of Levin’s scenario seems to come from hearsay instead of public records.
Regardless of whether you buy into the theory, what Levin and director Kevin Christopher Fox like to call a “theatrical investigation” plays more like a TED Talk. Despite Levin’s title and internal nods to the metaphorical “theater” of the alleged government cover-up, there simply aren’t dramatic stakes in what’s essentially a lecture delivered by actors as proxy.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications. By Hillel Levin. Directed by Kevin Christopher Fox. With Michael Joseph Mitchell, Mark Ulrich, Ryan Kitley, Martin Yurek. Running time: 2hrs 20mins; one intermission.