Last week I went to see “Oswald,” a play written by Dennis Richard and directed by Richmond Shepard that tells the unembellished story of Lee Harvey Oswald’s interrogation. For two days after John F. Kenndy was shot, the number one suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was interrogated by Dallas Police Captain William J. Fritz. Despite the pressure of interrogation and the significant evidence against him, Oswald never admitted to the crime or even to any key incriminating points. Then, after two days of defying the best efforts of his interrogator, he was shot and killed by a member of the public at large while being transferred to the county jail. There was no stenographer and no audio recording present during Oswald’s interrogation; Captain Fritz’s notes serve as the only record of what passed between them. “Oswald” brings Fritz’s notes to the stage in a literal presentation of this fascinating and lesser-known part of history. Rather than succumb to the inevitable temptation to dramatize the truth as we know it due to the relative meagerness of the factual record, playwright Dennis Richard has created a historically accurate portrayal of the frustratingly fruitless interrogation.
Tim Intravia starred as Oswald, effectively showing the audience just how tight-lipped an enigma the suspect could be. Intravia, I should note, has ample experience with “tight-lipped”: a man of many talents, he frequently appears as a human statue/robot/mime on the streets of New York City! He also, I might add, has prior experience with “criminal”; I met Tim just a few weeks ago on the set of “Hustlas,” a comedic pilot by John Kingman in which he played the infamous Tony One Sock. (Oh, you haven’t heard of Tony One Sock? Well, don’t worry, you will.) The point is, from one infamous criminal is born another, and Intravia has it down.
Watching the interrogation unfold before me in “Oswald,” I felt frustrated right along with Fritz when Intravia-as-Oswald responded to more-or-less straightforward evidence levied against him with a far-fetched excuse or insistence of ignorance. (For example, when pressed about carrying a long package – presumably a rifle – on the day of the murder, he first denies it and then later says that he was carrying curtain rods.) I found myself expecting more dramatic change in Oswald’s emotional pitch, perhaps a partial breaking-down or some other hint of (humanized) guilt beyond the factual evidence. Yet he remained, presumably true to life, relatively stony for most of the play, ratcheting up his agitation only near the end.
While the play could probably have benefited from more emotional dramatization overall for the sake of maximizing audience engagement, I respect the commitment of everyone involved to telling the real story. It is the story of a suspect who would not break down, who would not provide any explanations or admissions on an emotional level or otherwise, as his frustrated and failing interrogator tries to play it cool. Captain Fritz, played by Jonathan Miles, showed more distinct emotional ups and downs than Oswald; however, the substance of these peaks quickly became repetitive. I would have liked to see more of an arc or evolution in Fritz’s character or state as the interrogation drained his energy. Nonetheless, Miles did a good job demonstrating the difficulty the Captain faced in keeping his frustration from throwing him off his game.
All in all, the play was an intriguing historical lesson, perhaps the more so because my strong interest in history is coupled with almost no ability to retain textbook lessons of it. Going in, I had only a vague notion of the name Lee Harvey Oswald. Coming out, I had a solid understanding of (what there is to know about) the sniper who killed JFK. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and the lesson, and I recommend following the cast and production team to see what they do next.