STAGES OF DOUBT: AN ANALYSIS OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION IN AMERICAN THEATRE – PART 5

To read Part 1 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 2 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 4 of this series, please click here.

Chicago’s Assassination Theater began in 2015 with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign providing the world with one more reason to rue the internet. Playwright Hillel Levin rehashes a similar stew of the half-baked theories that Oliver Stone served up in JFK, but Levin incorporates information supplied by James Files. Presently serving a fifty year sentence for the murder of two police officers, Files has been claiming since 1994 that he was hired by the mob to kill Kennedy. He maintains that Oswald was brought into the conspiracy to be the fall guy, and that Jack Ruby was the hit man assigned to kill Oswald to keep him “quiet.” That Levin discounts the findings of the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassination each of which dismissed any mob connection to JFK’s killing but accepts the word of a convicted killer is somewhat mind numbing. Files’ story itself falls apart almost immediately. For example, he claims Oswald drove him around Dallas for five days prior to the assassination. As Oswald clocked in at work each of those days at the Book Depository and was observed by his supervisor and co-workers we must assume either Files is lying or the entire Texas School Book Depository staff is part of the conspiracy. Then there is the question of why the mob silenced Oswald to keep their involvement secret but have let Files “rat” them out for the last 24 years. Levin’s Assassination Theater is two hours of preposterous claims, the most preposterous of which is that the mob not only arranged the killings of JFK and Bobby Kennedy but was behind Giuseppe Zangara’s 1933 assassination attempt on Franklin Roosevelt. I’m surprised Levin didn’t reveal the mob had a hand in rubbing out Julius Caesar.

Another advocate of the mob theory is Playwright William Mastrosimone. Mastrosimone who wrote the 1992 CBS miniseries Sinatra, contends that during their meetings, Frank Sinatra spilled the beans to him about the mob’s involvement. In 2013 Mastrosimone shared what he’d learned from ‘Ol Blue Eyes in Ride the Tiger. Notice was not paid.

Playwright Daniel Henning’s 2016 work, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) is another of the better crafted plays concerning the assassination, even if one that still lacks in historical verity. Henning, founder director of Los Angeles’ The Blank Theatre, like Garson’s MacBird! harkens back to Shakespeare for his play’s binding concept, but unlike Garson, chose to endow his offering with the gravitas of Greek drama.

Selecting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for his template, Henning skillfully overlaid the events of March 15, 44 B.C.E. with those of November 22, 1963. RFK is Mark Antony with a Boston twang, and JFK walks in the shadow of the doomed Gaius Julius Caesar.

Henning hems closer to Shakespeare’s characterization of Brutus in depicting Johnson as a reluctant conspirator drawn into the murderous plot by a Machiavellian J. Edgar Hoover.

Nor does the playwright shy away from employing large sections of Shakespeare’s verse intact and reframing some of the best known lines to fit his needs, going as far as to have the dying JFK lament, “Et tu, Lyndon?”

While Henning is a talented playwright which explains the strength of his piece, he is also widely regarded as an “expert on the JFK assassination” a distinction given him by those who apparently aren’t.

Henning is very well versed in the Mythos of the assassination, he may even be an expert on that subject, but having a great treasury of rumors, second hand reports and misconceptions on an event is a far cry from having an expertise of the actual history.

For Example, Henning opens his piece with a presentation of the “Dramatis Personae” as each of the characters converges on stage, into a kind of Greek Chorus-chorus line, and identifies themselves with a snippet of background information.

It’s here, at the very beginning, where Henning’s errors and oversights begin. He has John Connelly, the Governor of Texas who was wounded while riding in the same limo as Kennedy, state that he is “convinced beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet.”

In this seeming dismissal of the so-called “magic bullet theory” put forth by the Warren Commission Henning is cherry picking his history.

Disgusted at being used by those bellowing a conspiracy brought down Kennedy, Connelly went before the press in 1966 to put his views on the public record. “I am convinced,” he stated, “beyond any doubt that I was not struck by the first bullet, but just because I disagree with the Warren Commission on this one finding does not mean I disagree with their over-all findings.”

Connelly never questioned the Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone, he simply maintained that he fired four shots, not just three.

Henning has Lady Bird describing herself as coming from a wealthy family who owned newspapers and radio stations. This statement is half true. She did come from wealth, but her father Thomas Jefferson Taylor made his fortune from land investments and retail merchandising. There were no newspapers or radio stations.

It was Lyndon Johnson, in 1943 while still just a congressman, who bought his first radio station, KTBC, and did so under Ladybird’s name. Johnson would acquire many more radios and TV stations, making him arguably the richest man ever to occupy the White House but every sale was under Ladybird’s name.

This is a stunning error for Henning to have made, in that he claims to have written his play after being inspired by Robert Caro’s monumental 3 volume biography of LBJ in which Johnson’s acquisition of his media empire is well covered.

Henning filmed his play in 2017 using many of the same actors from its L.A. premiere including Time Winters as LBJ/Brutus and Tony Abatemarco as Hoover/Cassius each of whom gave excellent performances on stage. The combination of a fine cast and Henning’s well crafted, if factually flawed script, is reason enough to look forward to the film finding distribution.

…the final post of this series


Lemon Butter: Best of L.A.’s Theatre Adjacent Restaurants and Bars – February Edition


Lemon Butter is a bi-weekly column featuring choice restaurants, lounges, Happy Hours, and other spots where hospitality is offered, that are convenient to theatre venues throughout Los Angeles. For distances and times given traffic and parking are not factored in. Where available, contact all hospitality venues for valet or parking information and/or reservations.


Café Gratitude

Walking distance to the Stephanie Feury Theatre,  Thymele Arts, and Studio/Stage Theatre is vegan restaurant Café Gratitude in Larchmont Village.

Their fresh, healthy menu includes salads like the “Fantastic”, a Torta Española Chopped Salad with a chickpea frittata, roasted red pepper, escabeche, cashew mozzarella, sun-dried tomato pesto, and toasted almonds, an assortment of Bowls such as the “Humble,” an Indian Curry Bowl with red lentil dal, spinach, roasted garnet yams, coconut mint chutney, spicy tomato jam, and brown rice or quinoa, or entrees like the “Elated,” with Mole Abuelita Enchiladas made with mole tempeh, corn, black beans, roasted tomatillo sauce, cashew queso fresco, avocado, coleslaw, and escabeche.

Café Gratitude – 639 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004 – (323) 580-6383
Distance to Stephanie Feury Theatre  – 364 feet (1 min. walk.)
Distance to Studio/Stage Theatre– 1.1 miles via Melrose (3 min. drive)
Distance to Thymele Arts – 1.4 miles (3 min. drive)

KASS Restaurant + Wine Bar

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu – The Tortellini with ricotta cheese and green asparagus coulis at a Media Tasting, KASS Wine Bar + Restaurant, Los Angeles, California, January 29, 2019.

Debuting just this month and now open is KASS Wine Bar + Restaurant by Michelin starred Chef Christophe Émé.  KASS’ 40-seat dining room and wine bar on La Brea is just off of Wilshire’s Miracle Mile, close to Theatre Row, and conveniently close to the newly remodeled Lyric Theatre. A beautiful, intimate spot for quick bar bites featuring an assortment of French cheeses and charcuterie with a glass of wine before the show, a relaxing glass after on the patio, or an anytime leisurely lunch or dinner.

Émé, of Iron Chef America, serves a rotating menu based on market fresh produce with openers such as the salad of Baby Beets with black lentils and aged Comté cheese, a Farro Risotto with celery root, kale, and Morel mushrooms, or the grilled octopus with baby fennel, Yukon potato, and red bell pepper coulis. Some suggested entrees are a Farro Risotto with celery and morel mushrooms, Tagliatelle pasta with Braised organic Beeler pork ragù, Tortellini with ricotta cheese and green asparagus coulis,  a “Chicken Cooked in Clay” served with wild mushroom sauce and green asparagus, or an Oxtail Parmentier—a smooth-layed French cottage pie of potatoes, bone marrow and Burgundy truffles.  Some appetizers and openers, such as the Beet Salad, Ceviche or Kusshi oysters, and chilled desserts like the Chocolate Tart accompanied by chocolate sorbet, may be served on the restaurants unique and visually stunning chill plate—a water-filled concave envelope of glass.

Of their collection of wines—characterized as “Energetic,” “Fruity,” and “Muscular” for whites and “Bright,” “Juicy,” “Earthy,” and “Plush” for reds—available by the glass are a “muscular” white Domaine Dupasquier, Roussette de Savoie, Savoie 2013,  a “pink” such as the Vinca Minor, Carignan Rosé Sonoma County 2017, a “Bright” red Domaine de Majas, VdP Côtes Catalanes Carignan Blend Roussillon 2017, or an “earthy” red 2016 Brovia, Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Vignavillej.’

KASS Wine Bar + Restaurant – 320 S. La Brea Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036 – (323) 413-2299

Distance to  Lyric Theatre – 0.9 miles via La Brea (17 min. walk/2 min. drive)
Distance to Theatre Row – 2.9 miles via La Brea/Melrose (7 min. drive)

Norah/Le Fête

Nearest the Marilyn Monroe at Lee Strasberg  and a short jaunt from Theatre Row, Norah provides elegant fare such as fresh oysters, Cauliflower Croquettes, or Cast Iron Corn Bread, to start, with entrees such as the Uni Butter-poached Shrimp with smoked tomato, scallions, and cilantro on toast, a wood-grilled Whole Sea Bream with chermoula, shaved celery, grapes, and sumac, or an 8oz American Wagyu Zabuton served with crispy fingerlings and black garlic chili oil. Dishes for vegans and pasta lovers, such as the Pumpkin Cavatelli, with Brussels sprouts, miatake mushrooms, pomegranate and ricotta salata, Maltagliati with fresh tomato, summer squash, shelling beans and ricotta, or Black Truffle Potato Gnocchi with truffle conserva and shaved black truffles.

At its adjacent lounge bar of cozy candle-lit elegance, Le Fête bar director David Kupchinsky serves craft cocktails such as his “Le Daiq” of Rhum JM, Calvados, Genepy des Alpes, house triple lime cordial and lime, the “Le Spritz” of Lillet Rose, Cava, house rhubarb-sage gastrique and tonic or the “Le Frappe” of Rhum JM, housemade Matcha coconut cream, orange juice, pineapple juice, and Small Hands pineapple gum syrup over crushed ice.

Norah/Le Fête gallery photos by Monique A. LeBleu.

Norah/Le Fête – 8279 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90046 – (323) 450-4211

Distance to  Marilyn Monroe at Lee Strasberg – 0.4/0.7 miles via Santa Monica (8 min. walk/2 min. drive)
Distance to Theatre Row 2.2 miles via Santa Monica (4 min. drive)

Spoonfed/Bar Joe

Spoonfed opened just last year in July and is adjacent to most Theatre Row venues, including The Hudson, The Blank Theatre, The Complex, Oh My Ribs! TheatreStudio C, and The Broadwater.

This new and cozy burger bistro has a spacious bar and generous patio area decorated with an updated post-modern feel. For breakfast, the spacious patio enclosed bistro-style restaurant features items such as the Blueberry & Orange Ginger Ale Cakes with orange crème fraîche, bourbon maple syrup, the Stuffed Brioche French toast with peanut butter, caramelized bananas, with seasonal berries and maple syrup, or the Mediterranean Hash with skillet-roasted sweet potatoes with pearled onions, chickpeas, Santa Barbara olives, oven-dried tomatoes, and Mediterranean Four Spice, topped with two poached eggs or without (Vegan option.) For lunch or dinner they offer the Spoonfed Burger with Gruyère & Blue Cheese, bacon balsamic caramelized onions, Heirloom tomato, pickles, butter lettuce, and aioli on a potato bun, served with crinkle cut fries and curry ketchup, the Eggplant Sandwich with grilled cold-smoked eggplant, broccoli sprouts, heirloom tomato, pickled red onions, lemon avocado mash, grilled whole grain bread, or the Fuhgettaboutit flatbread pizza with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato sauce, arugula, and shaved parmesan, just to name a few options.

Bar Joe features craft cocktails such as their “Draft Pimm’s Cup” made with Pimm’s, Chartreuse, ginger, and cucumber, a “Carajillo Collins” of Grey Goose Vodka, Liquor 43, and cold brew coffee, or their spicy “It’s An Old Fashioned!” of Street Pumas Scotch, maple, cacao, and cayenne. Perfect for brunching before matinee performances are a range of white and pink sparkling wines, their “Bellini” of Ugni Blanc, peach cordial, and St. Germaine, their unique take on a “Mimosa” of Cremant, orange juice, and orange oil from their signature collection of artisian oils and essences—the latter of which are also featured in their generous list of Mocktails.

Spoonfed/Bar Joe gallery photos by Monique A. LeBleu.

Spoonfed/Bar Joe – 959 Seward St, Los Angeles, CA 90038 (corner of Seward and Romaine in Hollywood) – 9323) 347-7000

Distance to  The Hudson Theatres/Hudson Guild – 0.2 miles via Seward to Santa Monica (6 min. walk/ 1 min. drive)
Distance to The Blank Theatre, The Complex, Oh My Ribs! TheatreStudio C – 0.3 miles via Santa Monica (7 min. walk/1 min. drive)
Distance to The Broadwater – 0.5 miles via Santa Monica (10 min. walk/1 min. drive)

Wood & Vine

Walking distance from The Montaban and directly across from the Pantages is Wood & Vine, nestled at street level in the landmark Taft Building at one of the most famous corners in Hollywood. The restaurant has a direct and birdseye view of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, designed with a loft view that also overlooks both the central dimly lit dining room and its spacious bar, as well as a lounge on the enclosed back patio with cozy seating around the central fire pit and conversation corner.

With plates for sharing, Chef Rick Sipovic’s menu features openers such as a “Kale Caesar” with anchovy vinaigrette, shaved egg, Reggiano, and sourdough croutons, Chef Sipovic’s own “Scotch Eggs” with pickled onion, beer mustard, and cornichon, or “Shrimp and Grits” with green chili cheddar grits, pan jus, and friese. For vegans, “Impossible Meatballs” served with spicy red sauce, plant-based spaghetti, and vegan mozzarella. And for dessert, “The Butterscotch” with house butterscotch, maple ice cream, and a sweet thyme crumble, Sour Cream Donut Holes dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla sauce, or a Peach Cobbler with smoked bourbon maple ice cream.

Craft cocktails are served throughout the space, such as the “Sage Advice” of Belvadere vodka, sage simple syrup, Campari, and grapefruit, “The Color Peach” with Hennesy, DiSarrono, Giffard Peche de Vigne, lemon, simple syrup and egg white, or “My Other Lover” with Mezcal, lime, simple syrup, peach bitters, sage and blueberries, or a Black Manhattan” of Larceny vodka, Amaro Averna, Angostura bitters, and black cherries.

Plates are shared family style and a 20% service charge is included in lieu of tip. The menu can evolve, so be sure to check with the restaurant for updates.

Wood & Vine gallery photos by Monique A. LeBleu.

Wood & Vine – 6280 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (at Vine Street at The Taft Building) – (323) 334-3360
Distance to  Pantages – 425 feet (across the street (2 min. walk)
Distance to The Montalban – 0.1 miles (3 min. walk)