The assassination of President John F. Kennedy will always be a defining moment in the history of Dallas. It’s a tragedy shrouded in mystery as well as horror – the catalyst for a million conspiracy theories and a million more TV shows. But, in 55 years, no one has really tried to tell the story from the other side of the other side. Now, a new musical at Firehouse Theatre is rehashing the story from the perspective of Marina Oswald Porter, widow of JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and longtime Dallasite (she now resides in Rockwall).
The theater will have developmental presentations of Oswald May 3-5. It’s a workshop or “final read,” so there won’t be a set or costumes, but it’s the only way to see the production before it makes its official debut at a later date, likely on Broadway.
Written by Broadway vets Tony LePage and Josh Sassanella, and produced by Dallas native Ally Beans, the play tells two versions of the same story. On one side, we have a troubled youth in the wrong place at the wrong time. On the other, there’s a cold-blooded killer.
“I came up with the original idea about eight years ago. I was re-watching the Oliver Stone film JFK, and I had a thought …When Lee Harvey Oswald was killed, the truth died with him. The world became divided about whether he did it or not, and he essentially became two people; ‘The Lone Gunman’ or ‘the Patsy,’” says LePage.
Thus, he wrote the story with two Oswalds in mind, each played by a different actor. LePage and Sassanella read books and articles, watched movies, shows, and YouTube videos to develop the script. At the start of the project, LePage was a “full conspiracy theorist” and Sassanella was pretty certain that Oswald did it. Now, they’ve both changed their tune.
“It is one of the most fascinating and frustrating parts of this whole thing,” says LePage. “It is a riddle without an answer.”
Oswald isn’t another attempt to solve a closed case. It’s more an attempt to find humanity in an inhumane situation, diving into the life of the woman who was left to deal with her husband’s shocking legacy.
“We will never know what actually happened, but this musical doesn’t seek to answer that question. It asks a deeper, emotional question: How do you reconcile such a tragic event with personal grief?” says Oswald director Randi Kleiner.
The play’s crew knows that the assassination of JFK will always be a sensitive subject. The production doesn’t intend to put Oswald on a pedestal, but it does try to sympathize with his family.
“We learned very quickly that telling Lee Harvey Oswald’s story this way would ruffle some feathers, especially in Dallas. I think that’s why we’ve ended up where we are. While his narrative is very exciting—and we like telling it—what I like to think we are offering is a look at a survivor, a woman who, while she might not know it herself, represents anyone who has been misunderstood by the history that surrounds them,” says Sassanella.
Dallas’ deep connection to the event is why they wanted to premiere Oswald here. They want the audiences to have strong reactions to the production—good or bad.
“The last thing I want to do is run from conflict. There are a spectrum of feelings about the assassination and we would do this show no favors by trying to dance around those or ignore the voices from the Dallas community,” says Ally Beans. “I think it’s important for the audiences in Dallas to engage in the show, give constructive feedback, and feel ownership over it. That’s what we came here for.”
Tickets are on sale here, for either $20 or $25 depending on the night you’d like.