Local theater piece questions assassinations
A half-century after the assassination, a majority of Americans still say they believe the murder of President John F. Kennedy was the result of a conspiracy.
Theories abound as to who did it and how the 35th president was killed in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. But a 2008 book that postulates a detailed explanation of a plot to assassinate JFK has convinced a Wendell playwright and a group of other Franklin County residents to mount a series of readings and other productions beginning on the 50th anniversary, around the region and around the country.
Based on James Douglass’ book, “JFK and The Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters,” local peace activist and actor Court Dorsey’s “Project Unspeakable” alleges a close coordination and involvement in the assassination by the nation’s intelligence and military apparatus. Douglass says the agencies saw Kennedy’s push to end the Cold War, as well as the pacifism of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leaders the Rev. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as threats to the establishment.
Public readings are scheduled for Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. in Leverett Elementary School and Arms Library in Shelburne Falls as well as the Northampton Friends Quaker Meeting House. The dramatic readings, along with readings in Boston, Portland, Ore., Gallup, N.M., Birmingham, Ala,, and Vancouver, B.C., will be followed by discussion. A reading in Orange — as well as in other locations around the country — are planned for the future.
The 560-page book by the 76-year-old Christian theologian, who presented a workshop a year ago at Rowe Conference Center, argues that Kennedy was assassinated for bucking the very military-industrial complex his White House predecessor had warned of.
Although Dorsey’s two-hour play doesn’t attempt to present evidence of who carried out the four assassinations, in 1963, 1965 and 1968, it does emphasize questions, suggested by quotes from its more than 125 characters — from President Dwight Eisenhower to Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev — all portrayed by 12 readers.
“It’s a way to initiate discussion and break the silence that surrounds these assassinations and the role of official forces in them,” says Dorsey, who spent eight months researching and writing the 100-page script, with help from Stephen Wangh, an author of “The Laramie Project” about the 1998 Matthew Shepard murder. “People don’t want to talk about it. It seems too scary, too threatening, too unnerving to think this thing could really happen,”
But, Dorsey said, “Just the fact that people will say, ... ‘Do you really think that,’ or ‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist,’ it’s already beginning the process and the discussion.”
Launching the idea for a dramatization inspired by Douglas’s book, following last year’s Rowe workshop, has drawn the project’s collaborators into the controversy that persists a half-century after the assassination that the official Warren Commission tried to lay to rest in 1964. The panel, chaired by JFK nemesis and former CIA director Allen Dulles, ruled that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in firing three shots from a window of the Texas School Book depository, where he worked. Oswald had had a litany of paradoxical swings between pro-Communist and anti-Communist associations, including defection to the Soviet Union and jobs for the FBI and CIA after his return and in the months leading up to the assassination, according to Douglass’ book.
Randy Kehler of Colrain, a longtime peace activist who is among the project’s six-member steering committee involved in fundraising, promoting, and coordinating independent dramatic readings of the script, says, the reaction of people has reflected just how loaded a subject it is for many people.
“We’re encountering people we didn’t imagine would really be excited by this who want to run with it. There are also people, including some close friends, who were almost hostile. One head of a peace group, a liberal guy, said, ‘If we get involved, are we going to be called ‘conspiracy theorists?’ They’ve done such a good job denigrating anybody who questions this as a nut case. It’s too threatening to think we live with a government that would do such things.”
When Kehler — who will be participating in a Nov. 22 reading with Dorsey and Douglass in Columbus, Ga., the home of the Army’s controversial “School of the Americas” — told the book’s author about those reactions, Douglass laughed.,“I told you: This is the unspeakable!”
An Associated Press poll this spring found that 59 percent of Americans think multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to kill JFK, down from 75 percent a decade ago. Even Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC recently, that he still harbors “serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. … I have serious questions about whether they got to the bottom of Lee Harvey Oswald’s time and influence from Cuba and Russia.”
Kehler says he understands people who react, “With all the things we have to deal with, why would we spend any time on this?”
But he responds, “There’s something liberating about the truth. And what we’re trying to say here isn’t just about the ’60s,” although Kehler — who spent time in federal prison for protesting the Vietnam War and has campaigned vigorously for nuclear disarmament and for campaign finance reform — believes an “unspeakable” complicity of American intelligence agencies in the JFK, RFK, King and Malcolm X assassinations is “a pattern that continues today ... not in the same way, with assassinations of American leaders, but with the secrecies, the lies, and covert activity. How do we solve anything that we’re up against today if we have major elements of our government that are completely out of view of the public, of the Congress, of the media that’s unaccountable in any democratic way.”
Dorsey points to the lack of public outrage at recent revelations about the National Security Agency tapping the phone conversations of leaders of allied nations as “a direct outgrowth” ignoring the kinds of connections and question that Douglass raises in his book.
Says Kehler: “The point is to raise questions, to encourage people to start talking and to bring this subject out of the shadows and out of the silence … Its almost an act of faith, a faith in the value of truth and the potential for something good to come out of this.
On the Web: www.projectunspeakable.com
You can reach Richie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269