Imagine what the plane trip back from that fateful day in Dallas almost 50 years ago must have been like- Jacqueline Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson sharing the presidential suite with the coffin of John F Kennedy. One woman recognising that her life is irrevocably changed just as one man faces the same dilemma. But for Jackie Kennedy, as a woman, wife and mother, who is she without her famous philandering and powerful husband and for Johnson, he must now become the man to rule the country but is marked by his own invisibility and uncertainty. Both are haunted by the ghost of JFK and neither are sure how to emerge from his substantial shadow.
In Bakehouse’s production of Ron Elisha’s play ‘Love Field’, now showing at the Tap Gallery, we are witness to a possible conversation (admittedly, all fiction but lots to ponder) between Jackie Kennedy (Lizzie Schebesta) and Lyndon Johnson (Ben Wood). Director Michael Dean has transformed this tiny space, designed by Nick Plummer and Suzanne Millar, into an intimate Air Force One journey with our two characters. Whilst there were times I felt the relationship and scenario felt a bit contrived- Jackie’s blood soaked outfit, some mixed accent work and the phone calls to Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife pushed the friendship a little too far, there is a great chemistry between Schebesta and Wood that made me believe in the relationship and this is what the play hinges on. These two actors breathe life into this short imagined scenario.
This is a play of possibilities set in a crucible of catastrophe. There is something commanding about the sheer physical presence of Johnson and Wood manages to also find Johnson’s crippling self-doubt. The moments where we see him thrust into JFK’s jacket is reminiscent of Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk all rolled into one uncomfortable and reluctant hero. Johnson cannot wear the loved mantle of his predecessor and the implication is that perhaps leadership will not ‘fit’ him. Schebesta’s Jackie Kennedy contrasts this with her need to support and mother, like a First Lady might, in conflict with the fact that she no longer serves in this role. There are also moments where anger boils because whilst she could forgive Kennedy’s sins, she cannot forgive his departure. She is in a man’s world and her currency is only in how she can complete the picture and serve her master, now gone. Behind every good man and all of that. This is reiterated in the confusion of who sits where in the executive suite now that their roles have changed.
Of course there is some romantic intrigue between them in Elisha’s play and this gives a new context to the real phone recordings played at the end of the show as well as the projections that sometimes interrupt the action and it is a credit to director and cast that make us want it to be true, even though we imagine there’s very little truth in it at all. There is a longing and desire that underpins their relationship. He represents a steady monotony and she represents an intelligent and beautiful counterpart.
The undercurrent of plane noise from sound designer James Colla and the stark brightness of lights from Christopher Page add to the frenzied tension of events and even when the stage is still or characters don’t speak, we understand that the buzz of circumstance is ever-present.
‘Love Field’ is a short excursion as far as what it requires of you in time and effort but it is a polished and thought-provoking play and audience seemed to exit satisfied. I know I was.