Hollywood Reporter , Dec. 18, 2003
by Frank Scheck
This new play by Keith Reddin attempts to provide an illustration of the lingering effects President Kennedy's assassination had on the national psyche, but its melding of suspense thriller and family drama never quite comes off. Although not without its compelling moments, "Frame 312," receiving an off-Broadway production after its world premiere last year at London's Donmar Warehouse, fails to convince on either of its levels, and the writer's strain is too readily apparent.
Set both in contemporary suburban New Jersey and 40 years ago in New York and Washington, the play concerns the past and current travails of Lynette. As seen in flashbacks, the younger Lynette (Mandy Siegfried) was an editorial secretary at Time-Life. When JFK is assassinated, her editor (Larry Bryggman), comes into possession of the famous Zapruder film. The contention put forth here is that the original version of the film decisively proves that Kennedy was shot not by one but two gunmen, as demonstrated by the movement of his head in frame 312. A copy is made and dispatched to the FBI, with Lynette as the unlikely delivery person, and later she somehow falls into possession of the original.
The rest of the action takes place in 1998, when the now middle-age Lynette (Mary Beth Peil) is a widow living alone in her large house in New Jersey. Clearly still emotionally traumatized by her experiences and knowledge, she also must contend with her two bickering grown children: the single Stephanie (Elizabeth Hanly Rice) and the married Tom (Greg Stuhr), the latter of whom is facing financial problems and a troubled marriage. Having kept her secret to herself all these years, Lynette finally reveals the truth about her past to her children, who react with no small degree of skepticism. What she finally decides to do with the film will leave audiences underwhelmed and, should he choose to see the play, Oliver Stone in an uncontrollable fury.
The play's depictions of the young Lynette's cloak-and-dagger escapades -- including an ambiguous encounter with a man who may or may not be an FBI agent -- are rather less than convincing, but they are at least far more entertaining than the latter-day scenes concerning the troubled family's emotional dynamics. The two grown children, as well as Tom's flustered wife, are highly annoying figures, and the emotionally recessive Lynette never quite convinces with her existential angst. While the playwright clearly is attempting to make large points about the continuing aftereffects of this traumatic event, he succeeds only in reducing it to the level of dreary domestic drama.
The heavy-handed staging by Karen Kohlhaas doesn't succeed in smoothing over the play's inconsistencies, and the less than subtle approach often produces unintentional laughs. The performers cope as best they can with their underwritten or stereotypical roles, with only the ever-reliable Bryggman finding subtle nuances as Lynette's fatherly but mildly condescending boss.
Copyright 2003 VNU eMedia, Inc.