St. George duplicates Garland’s timbre accurately enough that she sometimes sounds like Dorothy on downers. But the tapes are hardly profound; there’s more gritty wound licking than self-awareness in Garland’s account of herself: “If I’m a legend,” she wonders into the bottom of a wine glass, “then why am I so lonely?” The wandering late-night session does reveal the emotional vulnerability that so distinguished Garland’s singing, however. And St. George transfers it to her spot-on renditions of Garland hits, from a clanged-out “Trolley Song” to an aching “The Man That Got Away,” all accompanied by pianist Tim Evans with deference and sweep. (If Garland couldn’t pick husbands or advisers, she sure could pick songs.) That St. George is also “doing Judy” can make the emotion seem a bit once removed. But if the actress can’t play Jesus to Judy’s Lazarus, she does have an audience eating out of her hand. And if the perky Boston performer’s appeal is less complicated than Garland’s, what she feeds her fans here is more character than impersonation.
RFK is surprisingly compelling for a history lesson the Kennedy Library would probably love to co-opt. Writer/performer Holmes didn’t come to the project as a diehard Kennedy hagiographer. Told by an agent that he looked like Bobby Kennedy, he decided to capitalize on the resemblance. Then a treasure trove of RFK-bilia fell off a used-book-shop shelf into his lap. The Greeks would call that fate, and one of them gets a workout in RFK. The angry young politician’s literary hero was the tragedian Aeschylus. And “Tragedy is a tool for the living” is a mantra held up in RFK as a spur to Kennedy’s agonized decision to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the 1968 Democratic nomination. Of course, it doesn’t hurt the theater piece that Kennedy’s opposition to the then-escalating Vietnam War, for which as a senator he had voted, seems eerily relevant to the situation shaping up among today’s Democratic candidates with regard to Iraq.
There are several reasons to see RFK, which is well researched and put together (despite some laughably forced transitions). The show begins with the moment in 1964 when a furious Bobby learns he will not be LBJ’s running mate and ends on a note of melancholy triumph, as the youth-inspiring presidential hopeful wins the California primary on the brink of his assassination. For those old enough to remember political idealism in these cynical times, there’s the whiff of a Camelot that was stormier than misty. For others, there’s a lot of relevant history here that — since this Kennedy never got his thousand days — has tended to evaporate from the public consciousness. There’s the young AG’s determination to fetter J. Edgar Hoover, and his bloody tangles with Southern governors over segregation, and his fervent speechifying — of which there are several verbatim examples, to which Holmes does justice, his Massachusetts accent hardening as his voice rises.
Holmes performs the two-act piece, which is directed by Seth Greenleaf, in narrow suit, narrower tie, and PT-109 tie clip, conjuring a floppy-haired Kennedy who is part spaniel, part pit bull. The material is dense, but it’s leavened with enough humorous anecdote and humanizing detail to keep it from seeming like the hippie bread of the Jefferson Airplane era. And the invocations of Aeschylus remind us once again that the ancient Greeks had no monopoly on tragedy.