“I’m an investigative reporter but I’ve always loved plays,” says Hillel Levin. The result is “Assassination Theater,” Levin’s investigative drama about the murder of President John F. Kennedy, now playing at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
Focusing on Chicago FBI agent Zach Shelton, the four-man drama develops a “Mafia did it” interpretation of JFK’s assassination, along with excursions into the medical evidence and the life of Jack Ruby.
It is unusual territory for a stage drama.
The JFK story has been told in more than thousand books and more than a hundred documentaries but not many stage productions. In a recent telephone interview, Levin suggested live actors can convey information that images and words cannot.
“It’s a better way to tell the story,” he said. “Drama is more convincing than print.”
“The origins of this show go back to 2007, when I wrote a story for Playboy about the mob in Chicago,” Levin went on. “After the article was published, I was approached by Zack Shelton who was featured in the story. He asked me ‘Why don’t you do the real story about the mob?’ What story is that? I said. He said, ‘How they killed JFK.”
With Shelton’s help, Levin sought out other FBI agents knowledgeable about the Chicago mob who also came believe that organized crime was behind the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963.
The Chicago background of Jack Rubenstein, aka Jack Ruby, the assassin of accused assassin Lee Oswald is explored. So is the much-disputed story of James Files, a convicted who claims from his jail cell in the Statesville Correctional Center in Illinois (and an aggressively unconvincing Web site) that it was he who shot and killed the president from the grassy knoll.
Levin acknowledges that Files has embellished his story over time but insists his original confession is truthful. He notes that Shelton, a veteran FBI agent, also thinks Files is credible.
“I believe that we have distilled the story into a real compelling argument that organized crime had the motive and means for getting it [the assassination] done. I don’t think there’s any more convincing explanation.”
“In any case,” he adds, “no one walks out of there [the theater] saying only Oswald did it.
The title of the piece encapsulates Levin’s analysis of the November 22, 1963.
“The assassination was carefully staged to put the blame on only one actor when it was a much larger,” he says. “We need to use the same critical faculties we use to talk about theater, to talk about the JFK story.”
“Assassination Theater,” directed by Kevin Christopher Fox, runs at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, through November 7. Tickets are available at assassinationtheater.com or by calling (800) 838-3006..