Oswald: The Musical

Act I. Open with a chorus line of high-stepping Jack Rubys in characteristic Jack Ruby garb—dark suit and tie, white shirt, short-brimmed fedora. As they exit Lee walks on singing an ominous minor-key variation of Tony’s “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. “The Kid from N’awlins?” “Watch Me Now?” “This Time I’ll Make It?“ Whatever. Segue to the Oswalds’s dingy bedroom. Marie reads a copy of Life magazine with JFK on the cover. Lee sits on the bed in his boxers, staring at the floor. Dialogue indicating he’s just underperformed sexually. Marie turns the magazine’s pages with a snap subtly suggestive of gunfire. Flashback: Lee living in Minsk after his stint in the Marines, meeting Marie for first time. Neither able to understand the other, but Lee’s pidgin Russian giving them plenty to giggle about; just a couple of kids, basically. Lee and Marie sing a bilingual duet: “The Language of Love?” “A Minx in Minsk?” “Comrades in Arms?” Balalaikas playing as well as other indigenous instruments. Back to bedroom: Marie comments what a lucky girl Jackie is. Lee lifts his head. The audience registers his anguish. Lee rips the cover off Marie’s magazine. Giving full vent to his jealousy, he slaps Marie who curls up on the bed, weeping. After Lee exits she sings the poignant ballad, “I Miss You, Mother (Russia)?” “So Far Away?” “Borsch, Babushka, and Belarus?” A seemingly contrite Lee returns, crawls into bed with Marie and pulls the sheet over them.

Act II. Open with a scene at the 544 Camp Street address where Lee meets his new radical friends. They speak of JFK’s betrayal of the anti-Castro Cubans, his failure to supply air support at the Bay of Pigs, his sell-out to the Cuban dictator. Dialogue consisting entirely of one-liners and rapid patter, plus macho insult humor from George de Mohrenschildt, the conspirators’ ringleader and Lee’s instant father-figure. All very light and upbeat. Flashback: Lee in Marines’ barracks being tormented by fellow soldiers who play keep away with his copy of Das Capital and sing “Oswald Rabbit,” their cruel nick-name for the Marxist-leaning bookworm. Back to Camp Street. The scene ends with Donald Ferrie, the quirkiest of Lee’s new friends—fey, hairless, given to violent sexual innuendo—leading them all in a rousing song a la Stubby Kaye’s “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” from Guys and Dolls. No direct mention of assassination made at this meeting, but the song—“Camping It Up On Camp Street?” “Lying Low?” “Dispatch in Dallas?”—hints strongly at future events. For the rest of the act the stage is divided between the Oswalds’s bedroom and the Oval Office, JFK bending a Marilyn Monroe-like figure over his desk, the Oswalds flailing about under the sheets. Lee, distraught after yet another failure and JFK, flush with post-coital success, meet in white bathrobes down-stage center for the show-stopping duet, “America.” JKF enumerates in song his many world-shaking achievements, Lee his many embittering disappointments, illustrating in aching contrast the fickleness of the American Dream.

Act III: The curtain rises on the sixth floor of the Dallas School Book Depository. Lee gathers cardboard boxes and builds his sniper’s nest. The window is right over the orchestra pit. It appears he’s preparing to fire into the audience, a little pushy symbolically, but effective. He takes the rifle out of the long brown paper bag and loads it. He checks the sight, moving the barrel from one side of the house to the other. While peering out in anticipation of the motorcade, he sings “Payback?” “Entering History?” “On The Street Where You Die?” Anyway, a downbeat number in the Kurt Weil mode, the music rising to a crescendo as Lee fires three shots into the orchestra pit. The lights come down. Next scene: The Dallas County Courthouse. Oswald clutches the bars of his cell and sings of his love for his wife, a song called simply “Marie.” Marie, who’s been listening stage right, runs to him, her arms reaching through the bars. Members of the Dallas police force come and pull her away. Alone, she sings the heartrending “Crime of Passion.” Segue to Oswald’s news conference with attack-dog reporters at the Courthouse done in a rapid-fire Gilbert and Sullivanish style—but with an American flavor. Afterwards, before his transfer to the county jail, Oswald insists on a change of clothes, a delay that gives Jack Ruby—skulking stage left—just enough time to reach the garage where Lee will soon appear in handcuffs. In a number reminiscent of Stanley Holloway’s “With a Little Bit of Luck” from My Fair Lady, Ruby expresses his eagerness to atone for a life of petty crime and small-time gangsterism. Lee emerges on the arms of the Dallas Police singing “Patsy!” in a keening, falsetto voice. Jack rushes him, the gun pointed at Lee’s abdomen. The scene freezes in the famous photograph of Oswald’s open-mouthed cry of pain and horror. The lights come down. A spotlight appears center stage. Marie, dressed in mourning, walks into it and reprises “Crime of Passion.” A second female voice is heard. Jackie, also in black, steps out and joins Marie in a haunting duet. The song ends. The women stand together, holding hands, heads bowed. All is solemn and still. Suddenly the house lights come up, the orchestra begins to play.

Enter the Jack Ruby dancers.  

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