at the Roxy

“There were no fingerprints on the murder weapon.” –Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, shortly after Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest

“The thing I am most concerned about . . . is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” –J. Edgar Hoover, November 24, 1963, just after Oswald was murdered

“We have a palmprint . . . we have discovered a palmprint on the rifle.” –Curry, shortly after Hoover’s memo

Bob Harris’s Who Shot JFK? is not what you usually think of as theater. If it were a scripted show–with fictional characters spouting fabricated dialogue and with such a bizarrely intricate plot–you probably wouldn’t find it believable. There are too many unknowns, you might say, too many deceptions, too many loose ends that aren’t tied up. Then there’s the improbable cast of characters. And besides, would a government agency really conspire (with the mob yet) to assassinate the president?

I saw Who Shot JFK? in November, but Harris says he hasn’t changed his one-man show much for his March 21 performance at the Roxy. While it may be hard to accept this work as cohesive theater, it does manage to hold together as an examination of history. It is much less theater than a terrifying lesson about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the ends that our government went to to cover up the truth behind it.

While the show is billed as a comedy, the laughs come not from deliberate jokes, but from ironic twists of fate and the preposterous assumptions made by members of the government regarding the gullibility of the American public. Harris smashes these assumptions in his show, which takes the form of a multimedia lecture. The truth, as he sees it, is the product of years of following the case and more than eight months of research in the National Archives and in Dallas. He has been put on the FBI’s subversives list, has been physically intimidated, and suspects that some of the phones he uses are tapped. One of the flyers he uses for the show consists of a large cardboard “memorial,” a list of names–some familiar, some obscure–of those he believes knew too much about the Kennedy assassination and were consequently silenced. Most, in fact, were found murdered. If such experiences don’t prove that the cover-up isn’t over, maybe the 16 files on Oswald that are locked for 75 years will. However, much of the information collected in 1963 burned in a suspicious fire in Dallas–much like information on Bobby Kennedy’s murder.

In an evening’s time Harris pulls together his new information and the many assassination theories developed over the past 25 years to explain what happened in Dallas. This is the only show I’ve ever seen where an 11-page bibliography rather than a program is handed out. Harris presents a massive amount of information, some of it agreed upon by many investigators, some of it outlandish, some of it controversial. There was a reason for shutting some of this stuff behind archive doors for so long. But Harris does his show with an easygoing manner, smiling as he scares the hell out of you.

As most experts now do, he disputes the single-bullet theory that was central to the Warren Commission’s findings. To demonstrate the improbability of a single bullet killing Kennedy before hitting Governor John Connally in three places, he brings in a wire that shows the angles the bullet would have had to take. The wire has more slopes and inclines than a roller coaster. He uses many such examples, and the conclusions he draws seem plausible and frightening.

Harris’s message is that some of the people behind the cover-up are still around–many of them still in power–and that we are still being affected by those in government who condone such actions. Consider how little we were told by government officials about the Iran-contra affair. At one point he shows a videotape of responses of average working people to his question “Who shot Kennedy and why?” The answers he heard range from disinterest to belief in a conspiracy to refusal to believe that our government would ever lead us astray. Harris’s chilling show points out the possible price of our ignorance.