Mama’s Boy

Mama's Boy, Michael Goldsmith, Betsy Aidem

Michael Goldsmith & Betsy Aidem, photo: T. Charles Erickson

First up in the George Street Playhouse (New Brunswick, N.J.) 2016-17 season is Mama’s Boy, by Rob Urbinati. It’s a family drama about a very particular family—that of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the period leading up to and after the events of November 1963. Directed by David Saint, the play runs from October 18 through November 6.

The assassination of President Kennedy continues its dark fascination. Already this year I’ve read two thrillers that riff on the case, and Hulu televised a terrific 11.22.63 (starring James Franco, Chris Cooper, and Sarah Gadon), based on the even-better Stephen King time-travel book, 11/22/63.

Mama’s Boy probes the assassination from the viewpoint of Oswald’s monomaniacal mother, Marguerite. In real life, she did try to put herself at the center of the story, and Urbinati capitalizes on her obsession to great dramatic effect. Marguerite (played beautifully by Betsy Aidem) is convinced—or claims to be—that Lee’s defection to Russia, his U.S. return 32 months later, and the plot to kill Kennedy, were orchestrated by the State Department or FBI, for whom he was working as an agent.

Oswald himself (Michael Goldsmith) doesn’t give her theories the time of day. He is preoccupied with finding a “clean” job to support his baby daughter June and wife Marina (Laurel Casillo) and, subsequently, getting to Cuba. He refuses help from his mother—not an easy job, that—but older brother Robert (Miles G. Jackson) provides some support.

Marguerite says Lee is the only one of her boys who ever loved her. (They shared a bed until he was 12.) She is manipulative and distrusting, overbearing and intrusive, wildly jealous of Marina, and believes the “little people” will never receive any help or support from the government, the media, or other social institution. She rails at the fact that Jackie Kennedy is escorted to and from Parkland Hospital, where the President died, whereas she—equally deserving, she thinks—gets nothing. Her domestic drama plays out as tragedy writ both small and large, at the level of the living room and on the world stage.

Urbinati’s vision of warped mother-love is as powerful as that of Gypsy’s Mama Rose, and Aidem has called Marguerite “the role of a lifetime,” and the skewed vision thrust upon Oswald (who was barely 24 at the time of the assassination) may make you think somewhat differently about him.

Mama’s Boy premiered in Portland, Maine, in October 2015, with Aidem and Casillo in their current roles. It’s clear they inhabit these characters totally. The men, newcomers to the play, are fine. Also in the cast is multiple Tony-award-winner Boyd Gaines, who plays one of Marguerite’s interviewers in voiceover.

Saint and the production staff have made the most of George Street’s capacity, using projections in combination with the revolving stage platform. Admirable use of technology!

For tickets, call the box office at 732-246-7717 or visit the box office online. The theater is an easy 10-minute walk from New Jersey Transit’s New Brunswick station.