The Life and Times of
Lee Harvey Oswald


May 27 – June 13, 2004
First Floor Theater
Thursday – Saturday 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm

Conceived and Directed:
Vít Horejš
Choreography: Martha Tornay
Costume Design: Theresa Linnihan


Leave it to the various forms of theater to hold a mirror, as it were, up to the changing mind of the body politic. In the aftermath of the Iran Contra affair, Oliver Stone's "J.F.K." portrayed the Kennedy assassination as the action of a rogue cell in the intelligence services. Following 9/11, "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald" by Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre more or less portrays the assassination as a security blunder which could have been prevented.

The fact that Oswald was allowed to defect to the Soviet Union and come back, and that he was known to be a troublemaker and allowed to order guns by mail, should have been enough to alert authorities that he was a threat, according to the troupe's artistic director, Vit Horejs. That Oswald gave off so many cautionary signs, but succeeded in accomplishing the assassination, suggests a component of inevitability that could only be expressed in puppet theater.

So Horejs takes the main characters, represents them as a peculiar cross between Greek tragic figures and stock characters from old puppet murder tales, and portrays them as inexorably approaching the Grassy Knoll through their lives, guided by fate like marionettes by their strings. A chorus of FBI, KGB, FOD (Fairies of Destiny), and TV agents warn them in vain to avoid the path of destruction. Wurlitzer organ, accordion and percussion score, '60s hits and sound effects comment on the actions and guide the stringed players through their unavoidable acts.

The story is acted out on the Grassy Knoll, with the Book Depository in the background. Here the chorus begins recounting the story while moving and transforming the mobile set from the Book Depository into the Hyannis Park, the White House, Moscow, Havana, the Offices of the anti-Castro League in Miami, Dallas International Airport, the Viaduct, etc. A cast of over 50 eight-inch marionettes by Milos Kasal and a dozen dummies for the chorus by Václav Krcál will interact with eight live performers.

In tribute to the classical origins of its form, "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald" is subtitled, "Based on the accomplishments of Lee Harvey Oswald, Or, How he overcame travails and trybulations visyted upon him by the ruthless capytalist society and how he turned around his lonely lyfe only to lose it in the prime of hys fame and succes."

The Oswald puppet by Theresa Linnihan is based on the iconic "hunter of fascists" photo which Lee's Russian wife, Marina, took of him holding a rifle and a handgun (later used in Dallas slayings of JFK and Officer Tippit) in their back yard. The production uses the puppet characters of the traditional Czech Marionette repertory, for example, the JFK puppet is a knight in shining armor and Jackie is a noblewoman. Marina Oswald is a young village woman, Rose Kennedy is a queen, Joseph Kennedy is a king and Castro is a mountain spirit with a long beard. Robert Kennedy is a musketeer, LBJ is a cook John Connelly is a cowboy. Hansel & Gretel are used for children while John Jr. is represented by the "John John collectible doll" from the Danbury Mint (this doll was deemed "a salute to tackiness" by Steve Dunleavy in the New York Post).

In the chorus, there are a dozen frightening dummies by Václav Krcál that are reminiscent of the scary characters in the Pantheon of American Ventriloquism : Charley McCarthy, Danny O'Day, Jerry Mahoney and Howdy Doody, to name a few. (Krcál's Haman puppet was a highlight of this troupe's recent production, "The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman," performed at a Temple Beth Israel in Fort Washington, NY.)

The production is conceived and directed by Vit Horejs, who now says the production is "pretty much from the minds of the company. Lots of it was created through improvisation." The performance features Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw, David Friend, Vit Horejs, Ron Jones, Sarah Lafferty, Theresa Linnihan, Emily Wilson and Benjamin Caron, who also plays keyboards.

Choreography is by Martha Tornay, Artistic Director of East Village Dance Project, who most recently choreographed Ccechoslovak American Marionette Theatre's "The White Doe." Costume design is by Theresa Linnihan, Associate Director of the troupe, who has designed sets, puppets and costumes for six of its productions.

Mr. Horejs writes, "When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, I was 13 years old and living in Prague. It was Khrushchev's time in the USSR, but the post-Stalinist thaw was not yet felt in Prague. We heard consistently from the Communist Press about how US Government was bringing the World to the brink of World War III through the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile blockade. It was all blamed on the villainous President Kennedy. With a forthrightness of a 13-year old I felt at first the villainous imperialist was finally meted out his just punishment. Yet, rather then celebrating the death of a tyrant, same Communist press and media gave him a hero's goodbye. It was quite confusing to a 13-year old Czech.

"After 22 years in the United States, I now see some things as an American, but have no patience for unfounded conspiracy theories and propaganda like Oliver Stone's movie JFK. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy; but Oswald is a fascinating character. He lived near Anti-Castro League offices and was involved with them. As a self-proclaimed Marxist and one-time defector the Soviet Union with a Russian wife he was monitored by the FBI. He was corresponding with the Russian consulate and the American Communist Party offering his services. He dreamed about being a spy, but neither KGB, Fidel's Cuba, nor American Radicals wanted anything to do with him. And yet Oswald seems to be a puppet - drawn by strings of destiny to the Grassy Knoll. With 20-20 hindsight the Kennedy assassination now seems to have been so preventable. The strings should have been visible to those in charge of protecting the US president."

The benefit performance on June 3 at 8 pm ($35 minimum donation) will be followed by a reception at La MaMa's La Galleria, 6 E 1st St. (between Bowery & 2nd Avenue), featuring Moravian wine, Czech beer and traditional home-made delicacies. There will be an auction sale of artworks, Bohemian crystal, books and puppets.

The company's website is www.czechmarionettes.org
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