Early on in Oswald: The Actual Interrogation, the historically based drama that opened at Casa Mañana on Saturday, three cold, ringing rifle shots are heard.
That is first time that the chills go up your spine and your heart sinks while experiencing this theatrical re-enactment of the chaotic hours immediately after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
The script for this play, which is receiving its regional premiere at Casa, is based on research by author Dennis Richard. Since there were no recordings made of the questioning of former Fort Worth resident Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas police headquarters Nov. 22 and 23, Richard says, he had to piece the interrogation together from several books and the Warren Commission report on the assassination.
The result of that research is a drama depicting a tense battle between Oswald and Dallas police Capt. Will Fritz — who are equally resolute in their respective purposes. So, to a great extent, this play is an examination of what happens when an unstoppable force (Fritz) hits an immovable object (Oswald).
What happens is a stalemate. Because in the chess game Fritz and Oswald play, neither comes close to crying “checkmate.”
This show, directed by Casey Hushion, features excellent acting, especially from Ben Williams as Oswald and Ed Dixon as Fritz. The former captures the smug arrogance (slightly undermined by an almost invisible current of fear) of his subject, and Dixon does a magnificent job of creating an ideal accent and cadence of speech for his character. A handful of bit parts are also well played, and it is especially good to see Bill Jenkins, who plays a judge and other roles, back on a Fort Worth stage after too long an absence.
All of the play’s action takes place in and around a Dallas police interrogation room with institutional-green walls and stark metal furniture. Williams and Dixon deliver almost all the dialogue. But while the feel is appropriately claustrophobic, the production is not as talky and stagnant as it seems it would have to be. Hushion deserves praise for that and for excellent use of a few well-designed projections.
The problem, or maybe strength, of this show, depending on your view, is that it makes the primary point that we will never know the full truth about Oswald and his part in that unforgettable tragedy. So instead of coming away with more insight, we are just reminded that our enduring frustration is well-founded, and probably unresolvable.
Also, though the script’s respect for history is highly laudable, you can’t help but feel that the show would be better theater if had a little less fact and lot more conjecture.
With Fritz, for example, we see and hear him ask Oswald questions in a strange, random way. “Did you shoot the president?” is dropped between questions like “Have you ever been to Cuba?” and probing about why Oswald lives in Oak Cliff while his wife and child live in Irving.
There was probably some method to Fritz’s odd, rat-a-tat of queries. But we never get that scene where another character asks Fritz about his approach, allowing the author to flash his artistic license and invent an exchange where the veteran cop explains his strategy. Richard certainly did enough research to make a good guess about why Fritz operated as he did.
So as powerful as this presentation is, it would be even more engaging if it had a little more theatricality.
Finally, some are going to find that Oswald hits too close to home to bear. Most of us who remember those horrible days have little desire to relive the devastating loss. When you are looking at someone on the stage who lived among us and went to our schools, it only exacerbates all those memories and all the pain that has a permanent home in the souls of those who lived through that infinitely dark moment in history.