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Oswald's Backyard

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Surely Lee Harvey Oswald was not this dull. As presented in Leslie Bramm's new play, he is a boring and boorish wife beater who petulantly -- and repeatedly -- cries out for the world's recognition. In this backyard, there's not a hint of the possible spy/counterspy personality, nor one shred of mystery hanging on the Oswald clothesline.

Here he is called Leo Oscar (Matt Mullin), living on Magazine Street, New Orleans, with his young and pretty Russian wife, Rina (Mikki Jordan). The day is Sept. 21, 1963, and Leo is attempting to fix the television in order to see himself in a panel discussion, while Rina prepares for guests arriving from Texas. Repetition rules the first act, with the playwright bent on showing how dastardly Leo is -- so that the final appearance of the Texan visitors looks like the arrival of the cavalry. And when it's revealed that George (Douglas Gowland) and wife Norma Jean (Elizabeth A. Bell) are here for sexual swinging, things -- for a time -- look far more promising.

The problem is that playwright Bramm has tried ambitiously to pitch his play between a documentary and a cartoon. The messy result is that he is unable to find a suitable style to accommodate these two diverse elements. The cartoon elements include a phantom cigar-chomping Che Guevara type, here simply called Comrade (Drake Andrew), plus a much more original concept, a TV interviewer (Joshua P. Gartland) who converses with his viewing audience. There's also a running musical theme from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!," best used in the play's final moments as we hear a radio broadcast of the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas and Leo quietly sings "Many a New Day."

Under the direction of Scott R.C. Levy, the cast works hard to disguise the play's schismatic fault, with Bell most successfully combining the play's serious and comic intentions.

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