If you have ever wondered who pulled the strings of the John F. Kennedy assassination, La MaMa has a show for you.
This is meant literally: “The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald” does not explore the theories that have kept legitimate historians and basement-dwelling conspiracists busy for the past half century; what it does have is a lot of puppets, brought to wobbly life by a cast of eight humans dressed like federal agents, in white shirts and black slacks.
Despite the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater stating on its website that the show explores three “national traumas” from the 1960s — the killings of President Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King Jr. — the story squarely focuses on Oswald’s bizarre journey. This is an ambitious project and typical for a company that has in the past deployed puppets for the likes of “Twelfth Night,” an exploration of Socrates and Plato’s philosophical teachings and a show about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
The first issue here is the difficulty in actually seeing the little guys, whose designs are apparently inspired by traditional Czech marionettes. They measure about eight inches, so even in the intimate confines of La MaMa’s first-floor space, their painstakingly detailed faces and costumes are reduced to a blur as they move in a seemingly random manner.
Why show Oswald’s mother and father having clumsy puppet sex if the audience needs binoculars to see it? To paraphrase an old Woody Allen joke, the food is terrible and in such small portions.
The sex scene, incidentally, is an early indication that the writer-director Vit Horejs, who founded the company and is in the ensemble, will take a soup-to-nuts approach to Oswald’s life, all the way to Dealey Plaza and his death at the hands of Jack Ruby. Oswald died at 24, but the slackly paced show makes it feel as if he lived three times as long.