A young generation, hopeful and idealistic at the start of the 1960s, witnessed and experienced a series of tragedies during the tumultuous decade that left many of its members cynical, less innocent, and aware that their world was a much different place than the one in which their parents were raised. The Vietnam War spawned many of those changes, as did the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Though Jack Holmes' one-man play, The Awful Grace of God, is, as its subtitle suggests, a portrait of RFK, Holmes effectively weaves a tapestry of the turbulent times as seen through the stories of the attorney general–turned–New York senator. As an actor, Holmes' portrayal is remarkably accurate in terms of voice and movement. His performance is captivating and one of the most emotionally honest to be seen on a Los Angeles stage this year.
Directed by Jenny Sullivan, who wisely assists Holmes in building from a gradual tone to a powerful climax, the play spans events from 1964 to the 1968 assassination. The opening moments find Kennedy at his desk receiving word that President Lyndon Johnson doesn't want the 39-year-old attorney general as his running mate. For much of the first act, Holmes directly addresses the audience as if we are confidants. We learn anecdotes—most of them quite funny—about good times during the Camelot years of 1961–63. Holmes portrays Kennedy as a self-effacing, quiet guy who turned outspoken and tough so critics would focus on him instead of his older brother. The second act, which includes several excerpts of historical speeches, concerns Kennedy's run for president and his tragic demise.
Wearing a black suit and a thin black tie, Holmes strides the stage, frequently placing his hands on his hips when making a point. His bashful smile and the way he runs his hand nervously through his hair are identical to those gestures of the real-life Kennedy. And his New England accent, which impersonators usually exaggerate, is the real thing. But Holmes delivers more than the mechanics. His Kennedy oozes charisma, humor, and vulnerability. Combined with a well-researched script that spans numerous events without feeling long-winded, Awful Grace is a vivid, unforgettable portrait of one of the 20th century's most compelling people.
"The Awful Grace of God: A Portrait of Robert F. Kennedy," presented by Shadwell Productions at the Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Tue.-Wed. 8 p.m. July 21-Aug. 4. Also playing Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Aug. 12-29. $20. (323) 960-7726.