Thirteen Days, adapted by Brian Pastor from the book by Robert F. Kennedy
At: City Lit Theatre at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1030 West Bryn Mawr Ave., Tickets: $27-$32. Runs through: Oct. 24
Palace Intrigue has been a source of popular entertainment for, literally, centuries, and the farther its events from the memories of witnesses, the more license afforded writers to embellish facts in accordance with the sensibilities of their consumers. (Consider Richard III, Hamilton or the films of Oliver Stone.)
Despite the Cold War yearsspecifically, Oct. 16, 1962lying well within the recollection of many playgoers today, so radically has our society changed in the intervening decades that the roomful of multiethnic women proposed by Brian Pastor in his adaptation of Robert F. Kennedy's memoir barely elicits a second glance. Indeed, what's most remarkable about this City Lit production is how quickly we acclimate to its unigender casting.
Of course, we're already familiar with all-female Shakespeare, thanks to groundbreaking companies like Footsteps and its successors, the Babes with Blades. Make no mistake: Pastor's treble-voiced government officials gathered in the White House may be garbed in suits, neckties and severe haircuts, but this is no drag act. Any cognitive dissonance arising from the unconventional stage picture in no way decreases the suspense engendered by the high stakes in the conflict under scrutiny.
Those stakes are nothing less than the annihilation of a major portion, if not the entirety, of the Western continents. The USSR, you see, had introduced launching sites for nuclear-armed missiles to its overseas bases in Cuba, nullifying the Americas' geographical immunity to attack. The challenge facing President John Kennedy and his cabinet was to persuade Russia's leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove his Weapons of Mass Destruction without either side shedding blooda goal arguing for compromise, with threats restricted to economic issues rather than old-school bellicosity.
Obviously, Russia backed down; otherwise, scholars wouldn't still be alive to argue the veracity of Bobby Kennedy's account of the diplomatic haggling bringing about this fortunate denouement. Audiences do better to view this docudrama as historical fiction, thus allowing themselves to admire the tenacity of a cast led by Cameron Feagan's riveting performance as a commander anyone would follow unquestioningly, all of whom leap the 16-month gap between previews and opening as if it were mere hours (although Kat Evans' Boston accent sometime veers closer to Southie than it does Brahmin).
No one can deny the role that myth plays in determining assessment of our country's past, and how open we are in 2021 to learn how the sausage is made remains to be seen. In the meantime, we should savor such oft-overlooked moments as when Adlai Stevenson recounts a humorous fable ("attributed, as many of our stories are, to Abraham Lincoln") to a Soviet ambassador whose amusement at the punch line occurs only AFTER receiving its translation. In the midst of just such drollery are the fates of nations decided.