By Micha Green,
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor,
mgreen@afro.com

In the United Kingdom it’s not hard to know who the royals are because they hold regal titles in front of their names, however, in the United States there’s a last name that connotes regality as well- Kennedy.  Just like the British royals, despite famous public scandals, the Kennedy name still holds a lot of power with almost a demigod force.  However, art has a humbling and beautiful way of humanizing icons (and exposing their untold stories) such as President John “Jack” Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) in the case of Arena Stage’s new play Change Agent, written and directed by Craig Lucas.

Now let’s be clear, Arena Stage’s Change Agent is not a bioplay or even truly all about JFK, it’s about painter Mary Pinchot Meyer, a woman who was allegedly a friend and romantic lover of the former President. Through Mary’s eyes, the play shows American history as well as the former President’s highs, lows, rise to power and tragic death.

This production was commissioned by Arena’s Power Play Initiative, which according to Artistic Director Molly Smith, is created to investigate “our blood lines and finding truth in our shared experiences.”

“The Power Plays initiative highlights American stories of politics and power, exploring the people, events and ideas that have helped shape our country’s narrative and identity. It features works by well established writers as well as those who are in the earlier stages of their careers in theater, embracing the diversity of our country to understand who we are as Americans. We are building a canon with one story per decade, beginning with 1776 through the current decade,” Smith wrote.

Andrea Abello and Kathryn Tkel in Change Agent at Arena Stage is running until March 6. Arena Stage’s world premiere of Change Agent runs until March 6. (Courtesy Photo by Margot Schulman)

“Craig is one of America’s strongest playwright’s and it’s a pleasure to produce his work. Wonderful also to have him direct this terrific company of actors and designers,” Arena’s artistic director added.

One captivating aspect to Lucas’ vision and execution of the world-premiere performance of Change Agent is the play’s reimagined history told through an intentionally diverse cast.

Playwright and director Lucas writes in the script’s notes: “These characters based on historical figures, all of whom were White and from inherited wealth, meet again as souls in the afterlife.  They have had previous lives and hope for future ones.  Therefore, the actors portraying them do not all want to resemble their historical antecedents.  They want to represent the breadth of humanity.”

Actress Andrea Abello plays Mary, Luis Vega plays Jack, Kathryn Tkel plays Jackie, Regan Linton plays Cicely and Jeffrey Omura takes on the role of Cord.  In addition actors Tony Ham and Renea S. Brown are understudies for the male and female roles.  Each actor brings a different gravitas and experience to their characters due to their diverse backgrounds, that unearths an even deeper honesty, truth and connection to their characters, thus humanizing them for the audience.  

Andrea Abello and Regan Linton in Change Agent at Arena Stage running until March 6. (Courtesy Photo by Margot Schulman).

The script, filled with twists, turns and flashbacks ranging from the time periods of 1936-1964, when Mary died, is all from Mary’s perspective but outside of that time range.  For that reason, the audience must be prepared to buckle up to keep up.  This reporter recommends coffee before the two-hour show with an intermission.  However, once understanding the theatrical rules and rule-breaking, such as direct address and some fourth wall breakage, audiences can engage in Mary’s world as actors take them along for the ride.

In addition to the strong script, acting and directing, the technical elements of Arena Stage’s Change Agent makes for an aesthetically pleasing production. The topography and ways the actors related and moved on stage is partially in thanks to Associate Director and Movement Consultant Angelina E. Gillyard. The set design team led by Wilson Chin was simple and fascinating and allowed for fun surprises throughout the play.  Costume Designer Alejo Vietti created telling time pieces for each character and simple costume transitions that were incorporated into the action and Wig Designer Charles G. LaPointe brought even more to the characters’ portrayal with the period appropriate hair.  Lighting Designer Cha See and added so many strong lighting elements which contributed to the overall tone and feelings of the play.  Projections by Designer Caite Hefner also enhanced the storytelling in a major way and helped further engage audiences. 

Though the play felt slow moving at times, there was a lot of action and eight and intimacy consultant Jenny Male truly helped the actors keep the active nature of the play believable and seemingly safe. 

Dialect and vocal coach Lisa Nathans was key, particularly when it came to the immediately believable portrayal of Vega’s Jack, with his thick, recognizable New England accent.

Finally in this historically based play, the dramaturgical work of Jocelyn Clarke and Otis Ramsey-Zoe must be celebrated.  

For tickets and more information on Change Agent visit: https://www.arenastage.org/tickets/2021-22-season/change-agent/.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor