If you think Mama Rose from “Gypsy” is a stage mother from Hell, you should meet Marguerite Oswald, mother of John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
In “Mama’s Boy,” a family drama by Rob Urbinati that continues through Nov. 6 at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, you wonder why her youngest son didn’t turn his rifle on a mother who never stops interfering, being bossy, critical or condescending to those closest to her.
Betsy Aidem (Broadway’s “All the Way,” GSP’s “God of Carnage”) stars as Marguerite Oswald, whose oldest son John refuses to have anything to do with her (he’s not even in the play), her middle son Robert (Miles G. Jackson, GSP’s “My Name is Asher Lev”) barely tolerates her that he doesn’t even invite her to Thanksgiving dinner, and youngest son Lee (Michael Goldsmith, TV’s “Doctor Who,” “Gotham”) who moves his Russian wife Marina (Laurel Casillo, Broadway’s “Act One”), and new-born daughter out of her house and doesn’t leave a forwarding address.
The ensemble cast works well together and the storytelling is gripping. Sure, it’s history and much of the audience at the performance I attended probably could remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. But the two Millennials that came to the theater with me also were fixated by the story as well as its theatricality and gave it a rave.
GSP artistic director David Saint (celebrating 20 years with GSP) deftly directs this two-act drama that relies heavily on Michael Anania’s revolving set and projections to tell the story of the man notorious for killing the President in Dallas in 1963.
Oswald, like his brother Robert, is a former U.S. Marine. Unlike his brother, he defected to the Soviet Union during the Cold War in 1959, lived in the Belarusian city of Minsk until June 1962 when he returned to the United States with Marina settling in Dallas. (Casillo is reprising her role from the play’s 2015 world premiere at The Good Theatre Company in Portland, Maine.)
The play raises interesting questions — mostly can a domineering mother be the cause of her son’s murderous tendencies, or did he arrive at it all on his own — or both? Did he do it alone? Was he a government patsy? Can the family left recover?
Marguerite doesn’t believe for a second Lee killed Kennedy on his own and Aidem conveys her strong convictions so well you can feel her pain. Lee was on a mission from the U.S. government, she claims, and will show documents to prove it to anyone who will listen. The playwright uses her own words for that argument.
Marguerite needs to be needed and the more her sons push her away the more she clings to them. Once Lee is dead at the hand of Jack Ruby, he can’t push her away any more. Ultimately, she gets to spend the rest of her life with her beloved son. And the audience gets to wonder what might have been.
More about the cast
Betsy Aidem (Marguerite Oswald), returns to George Street Playhouse, where she starred in God of Carnage and Jolson Sings Again. She was recently seen on Broadway as Lady Bird Johnson opposite Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Tony Award-winning All the Way. Film credits include Margaret, You Can Count on Me and The Bleeding House. She also starred in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, alongside her Mama’s Boy castmate, Michael Goldsmith. On television, she has appeared on The Americans, The Big C, Rescue Me and Nurse Jackie. She received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in 2007.
Laurel Casillo (Marina Oswald) is a New York City-based actress who made her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated Act One (Lincoln Center Theater). She was nominated for a Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play for her performance as Ramona in the world premiere of Elevada at Yale Repertory Theatre. She has appeared in film, television, commercials, regional theater and off-Broadway productions with her troupe Five Flights Theater Company, and plays for laughs in the web series Harry and Lucy.
Michael Goldsmith (Lee Harvey Oswald) makes his George Street Playhouse debut in Mama’s Boy. His New York theatre credits include Tales From Red Vienna (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Final Analysis (June Havoc Theatre), for which he won Outstanding Lead Actor at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. He also starred as Kenneth in the Olivier-winning production of Clybourne Park at London’s Royal Court and West End. On television, he has appeared in BBC’s Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars and Fox’s Gotham. He also featured in Woody Allen’s 2015 film, Irrational Man, alongside Betsy Aidem.
Miles G. Jackson (Robert Oswald), a New Jersey native, returns for his second consecutive appearance on the George Street stage after playing the titular role in last season’s finale, My Name is Asher Lev. Other recent stage credits include 4000 Miles (Capital Repertory Theatre), Good Men Wanted (Arena Stage/Naked Angels), When I Started Dating Men (Dixon Place), In the Dark (Ars Nova) and Mad Forest (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Film appearances include Flora, which earned best screenplay honors at the 2015 Amsterdam Film Festival.
Rob Urbinati was a Theatre Consultant for Home Box Office in New York City, and has directed over fifty plays at theatres, colleges and universities across the country. Mr. Urbinati’s first play as a writer, Hazelwood Jr. High, includes a scene that appears in Smith & Kraus’s Best Stage Scenes 2000. Mr. Urbinati’s play, Karaoke Night at the Suicide Shack, and his musical, Shangri La, based on the 1960s girl group, both premiered at Queens Theatre. Rebel Voices, his adaptation of Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s “Voices of a People’s History of the United States,” premiered at the Culture Project. West Moon Street, based on a novella by Oscar Wilde, was part of The Acting Company’s Salon Series, and has been produced by the Prospect Theatre Company in New York and at theatres across the United States, England, Canada and Australia. In New York City, Mr. Urbinati has directed for the Public Theatre, Culture Project, Abingdon Theatre, York Theatre, New York University, Classic Stage Company, HERE, Cherry Lane Theatre, Pearl Theatre and the New York Music Theatre Festival. Mr. Urbinati has enjoyed a continuing association with the Drama League since receiving a Fellowship from that organization in 1995. He is Literary Manager of The Private Theatre in New York City, and Director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre, where he curates the Immigrant Voices Project. Rob is a member of the Dramatists Guild, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.
The artistic director
David Saint (Artistic Director/Director) is celebrating his 20th anniversary as Artistic Director of George Street Playhouse. Mama’s Boy marks his 35th mainstage production at GSP, which includes Sex With Strangers, Buyer & Cellar, Outside Mullingar, Clever Little Lies, Good People, Twelve Angry Men, God of Carnage, Creating Claire and Sylvia. His time here has been marked by collaborations with such artists as Keith Carradine, Tyne Daly, Rachel Dratch, Sandy Duncan, Boyd Gaines, A.R. Gurney, Uta Hagen, Jack Klugman, Dan Lauria, Kathleen Marshall, Elaine May, Anne Meara, David Hyde Pierce, Chita Rivera, Paul Rudd, Stephen Sondheim, Marlo Thomas, Eli Wallach and many others, including a remarkable partnership with Arthur Laurents. In addition, many new award-winning works have begun their life here during his tenure, such as The Toxic Avenger, Proof, The Spitfire Grill, Clever Little Lies and It Shoulda Been You. He has also directed Clever Little Lies at Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y. in 2014 and Off-Broadway at NYC’s Westside Theatre in late 2015/early 2016, and the National Tour of West Side Story. In July 2016, he directed a special two-night concert presentation of West Side Story staged at the historic Hollywood Bowl. He also has directed on Broadway, off-Broadway and regionally at Playwrights Horizons, Manhattan Theatre Club, Primary Stages, McCarter, Williamstown, Seattle Rep, Pasadena Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public, Long Wharf and many others, working on premieres by writers such as Aaron Sorkin, Wendy Wasserstein, Peter Parnell, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joe Di Pietro and Jonathan Larson. He is the recipient of the Alan Schneider Award, Helen Hayes Award, L.A. Drama Critics Award, several Drama-Logue Awards and is the President of The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation.
The creative team
Scenic designer Michael Anania (GSP’s The Fox on the Fairway, Creating Claire), Tony Award-nominated costume designer Michael McDonald (GSP’s Sex With Strangers, Broadway’s Hair), lighting designer and 1997 Tony Award winner Ken Billington (GSP’s Gettin’ The Band Back Together, Broadway’s Chicago), original music composer/sound designer Scott Killian (GSP’s My Name is Asher Lev, Nureyev’s Eyes), and stage manager Tom Clewell (GSP’s My Name is Asher Lev, Nureyev’s Eyes). Casting is by McCorkle Casting, Ltd.
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick