Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The staging is deliberately non-realistic: Wilson Chin's set design is an open expanse of wooden walls and seating areas, while Caite Hevner's projections identify the date and location of each scene and also display examples of the real Meyer's paintings. Lucas envisions the scenes as recollections from an afterlife where the players can only repeat the moments of history they may now regret.
Mary (1920-1964), a member of a prominent political family (her uncle was governor of Pennsylvania), first encountered Kennedy at a school dance in 1936 when she was 15, he 17. She is idealistic from the start and never loses her desire to "do something meaningful." She marries Cord Meyer (Jeffrey Omura), whose pacifism and interest in building a better, more interconnected world shifts when he joins the CIA. (Lucas goes into detail about this period throughout the play and states, in an appendix to the script, that he has documentation for the points where the drama diverges from official historical reports.)
The play also chronicles Mary's friendships with Cicely (Regan Linton), wife of a prominent CIA official and Mary's former schoolmate, and with Jackie Kennedy (Kathryn Tkel, who nails the woman's soft-spoken persona as well as the emotional side she didn't show the world).
"We shape the past in the present and the future shapes you," Mary tells JFK. As she and Cicely become more concerned about whether the CIA had been manipulating political policy from the end of World War II through the Cuban Missile Crisis and beyond, the playwright draws some unsettling conclusions about who really runs the country.
Abello is the anchor of the play, refusing to stifle her opinions when other voices try to moderate what they see as her dangerous tendency to question authority. Vega portrays JFK as enthusiastic but shallow, determined to make a difference while taking advantage of possibly reckless opportunities. He has boyish charm but his Boston accent sometimes becomes grating.
Change Agent runs through March 6, 2022, at Arena Stage, Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
Written and directed by Craig Lucas