(Left to right) Delia Ford, Andrea Conway-Diaz, Julia Kessler, Cameron Feagin, Sheila Willis, Maggie Cain, and Noelle Klyce portray President Kennedys cabinet in City Lit Theaters production of Thirteen Days. Photos by Steve Graue. (Click on images to view larger versions.)
An ambitious twist creates a unique reflection of gender issues in the body politic in this dramatization of the Robert F. Kennedy memoir.
28-Sep-21 In March of 2020, the world premiere adaptation of Robert F. Kennedys Thirteen Days was in final rehearsals and set to make its debut at City Lit Theatre. Then the pandemic hit and the theatre was forced to close. Fast-forward 18 months and this long-awaited show has finally opened and is running now through October 24.
Thirteen Days tells the suspenseful story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a cat and mouse game on the world stage. Based on a memoir by Robert Kennedy, the book tells the story from his perspective as Attorney General under his brother, President John Kennedy.
On October 16, 1962, long-range Soviet missiles carrying nuclear warheads aimed at the United States were discovered in Cuba. For the next 13 days, all eyes were on the White House as President Kennedy and his cabinet strategized around this international crisis.
Communications were conflicting, confusing, and constantly changing during the confrontation with Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet ambassador.
Kennedy did not want to create another international incident like the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and his cabinet could not agree on the most appropriate military action. One wrong move could trigger World War III.
Adapted for the theatre and directed by Brian Pastor, City Lits resident director, this production features a cast of ALL women. While all of the characters in the book are white males, this ambitious twist creates a unique reflection of gender issues in the body politic.
(Left) Kat Evans as Robert F. Kennedy.
All of the women are dressed in business suits with ties and shoes that make them look powerful and professional, just as their male counterparts would have appeared. Their short, cropped hairstyles enhance the seriousness of their roles.
Theres no good reason that only white men were in the room, said Pastor. The only explanation is systemic racism and sexism and that seems worth pointing out.
Reversing the genders, says Pastor, helps the play feel more like a modern piece of storytelling, which helps audiences find the relevance of the story in their own lives.
Audiences get the most out of shows when they see themselves onstage, he says. We forget were watching women play historical male figures when watching the show. The times, then, that we are reminded become all that more poignant.
Cameron Feagin as JFK (right) knows when to be tough and how to react to the escalating pressure. Kat Evans as Bobby Kennedy narrates the nerve-wracking drama, creating real tension until the final showdown. Both of these lead actors bear a physical resemblance to the Kennedy family, adding to the performance.
The cast also includes Maggie Cain (Director of Central Intelligence John McCone and Soviet United Nations Ambassador Valerian Zorin), Andrea Conway-Diaz (McGeorge Bundy), Delia Ford (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor), Kim Fukawa (Arthur Lundahl, the aerial photography expert who detected missile installations in Cuba; and Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin), Julia Kessler (Secretary of State Dean Rusk), Noelle Klyce (Ted Sorenson), Shawna Tucker (National Security Council member Llewellyn Tommy Thompson, Sheila Willis (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), and Anne Wrider (Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations).
The production team includes Liz Cooper (lighting design), Jeremy Hollis (set designer), and Satoe Schechner (costume designer). Kudos to Schechner for her powerful dressing of the women.
The play is running at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue in Chicago. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. COVID-19 protocols include masks and proof of vaccination for entrance. City Lit will be following CDC ventilation guidelines to ensure a complete exchange of air in the theater between performances.