A study of arrogance, of power and influence wielded corruptly to cast facts into doubt.
~ Arizona Republic writer Bill Goodykoontz review of the film Chappaquiddick in the Arizona Republic
Mary Jo Kopechne was one of those people who got lost in the shuffle during a great scandal and reduced to becoming a footnote in history. She was only 28 when the late Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts on Friday, July 18th 1969. The senator was able to extract himself, but, Mary Jo couldn’t. She died in the submerged car. Kennedy purposely failed to notify authorities of the accident, instead waiting until the next day to report it.
This show is her story, what she went through and the aftermath that affected everyone, especially Kennedy, who died on August 25, 2009, at age 77 from brain cancer. We all heard the story about that terrible accident. Pretty Catholic school girl turned teacher who joined the Boiler Room Girls, a group of young women who supported Robert F. Kennedy in the 1968 presidential campaign. The young blonde idolized RFK and worked hard as a secretary for his speechwriters.
Teddy (played remarkably by Thomas Piper) is in big trouble. He was able to get out of the car that plunged in Poucha Pond but left Kopechne to drown. He’s in shock, worried, scared and every emotion connected with guilt. He doesn’t know what to do, and that’s when help of the spiritual kind comes in.
Instead of talking to God, Teddy speaks to three demi-gods, his brothers John F. and Robert F. Kennedy (Blake Boyd and Tim Redmond, respectively) and their curmudgeon father and former bootlegger Joseph Kennedy (James Gleason). It seems the men have done this type of thing before. Helping out Teddy in one of his messes. It will take a lot of creative thinking to spin this latest terror that the senator has created for himself. The Kennedy men put their heads together to formulate alternative solutions to this latest Kennedy crisis. They resemble the witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, conjuring up a long-lasting potion that will make the horrendous incident fade from memory and history. Nice try.
Cathryn Dylan does an excellent job as Kopechne. Instead of playing victim, yeah, she’s confused, very wet and mad because she was left behind to drown by the senator’s hand, she is able to confront him and holds nothing back. Piper plays Teddy, who still doesn’t own his wrong, with equal strength. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.
There aren’t any winners in this sad tale. A woman died before her time. Her ambitions and dreams of a political future are now fleeting memories. A grown man who should have known better did more than mess up. He crushed a woman’s body and soul. To gain sympathy, Teddy wore a neck brace to Kopechne’s funeral. Totally unnecessary. James Gleason plays papa Joseph Kennedy with wicked finesse. The old man is stuck in a wheelchair after his last stroke, but, still has a conniving mind. Tim Redmond plays Robert F. Kennedy as a neutral ally to his brother Edward. Always trying to keep the family peace among the men.
Writer Peter Lefcourt did his due diligence in researching this complicated event. He manages to tell everyone’s story without leaning toward or against any individual. Everyone is responsible for their own involvement, and no one gets a free pass. Wonderful show and brilliant insight to another blemish in U.S. history.
The Death and Life of Mary Jo Kopechne plays tonight and ends tomorrow Saturday, August 18th at 8 p.m., playing at The Odyssey Theatre, located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., in Los Angeles. For ticket reservation, call 323-960-4418 or log on to www.plays411.com/maryjo.