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The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald

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More and more, puppetry is coming into its own in this country as a serious adult art form. No better example exists than the current show at La MaMa, the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre's "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald." Directed by the troupe's founder and artistic director, Vít Hořejš, Oswald's story is spelled out against the epic sweep of world affairs.

Running the gamut from miniature marionettes (by Miloš Kasal) to life-size scary dummies (by Václav Krčál), with a gifted ensemble of nine actor-puppeteers, the Oswald story unfolds. In their hands it becomes an overwhelming and absorbing piece of theatre. And how appropriate that marionettes, controlled by strings -- puppets in the hands of fate -- should tell the Oswald story.

Whether or not the Kennedy assassination was the work of a troubled loner or a group of conspirators is not addressed. The point that Hořejš and his troupe do make clear is that the assassination could have been prevented. Oswald was known by some federal authorities to be a troublemaker, probably mentally disturbed, shuttling between Russia and the United States.

Delineating the Oswald character, the production gives a sympathetic portrayal of Oswald's birth, his troubled childhood (spent mostly in an orphanage), and his lack of formal education. With little to grasp, Oswald latches on to Marxism, turning Russia into a utopia. Though Oswald wants to be a Communist spy, the KGB, communist Cuba, and American radicals all decline his services. When living in Russia, he becomes disillusioned. And in attempting to return to this country, he becomes a pawn in Soviet-American relations.

The ensemble often turns into a Greek chorus spelling out doom. Step by inevitable step, the story, compellingly told with all the production's art forms, leads to the Kennedy assassination. It's a long way from the children's shows that have so long dominated puppetry in this country!

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