Becoming Bobby Kennedy
How dumb genetic luck (and a box of old books) brought a Kennedy to life and spawned a theatrical hit.
Chances are somebody, somewhere, has marveled over your resemblance to someone else. You probably chuckled, then forgot about it. Jack Holmes—whose one-man show, RFK: A Portrait of Robert F. Kennedy, makes its local debut this month—didn’t. The actor-playwright’s decade-long odyssey to bring RFK to Boston is proof that, with some work, an uncanny resemblance can give a career a serious boost.
STEP 1: THINK BIG Twelve years ago, Holmes walked into a New York agent’s office for job advice. The agent made an observation Holmes had heard before: He was a dead ringer for Bobby Kennedy. The beginnings of a lucrative run as an impersonator? Not quite. To seem ambitious, Holmes blurted that he was hard at work on a play about the late U.S. senator. (He wasn’t.)
STEP 2: STAY ALERT A month later, the RFK doppelgänger was browsing in a used bookstore when a customer happened to drop off a trove of—yup—Bobby Kennedy stuff. “I gave the guy 20 bucks for everything and began making notes,” Holmes recalls. He’d never penned a play, but his research grew into just the sort of show he’d bluffed about.
STEP 3: WATCH, LISTEN, REPEAT To get RFK’s vocal inflections down pat, Holmes spent years studying footage and recordings. “JFK spoke from the back of his throat, and it echoed,” says Holmes. “Bobby’s voice formed in the front of his mouth…it was immediate and emotional, and unlocking that difference was key.”
STEP 4: DAZZLE FRIENDS, FAMILY Holmes’s show debuted in California in 2003, and has since won over critics nationwide. His eerie likeness has left even those who knew RFK best—such as daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and biographer (the late) Arthur Schlesinger Jr.—awestruck. After a New York performance, Schlesinger, with Lauren Bacall in tow, met Holmes backstage. “He said to me, ‘How’d you do it? You didn’t even know him!’” Holmes remembers. “Bacall said, ‘He’s an actor. That’s what we do.’”
6/7, Stuart Street Playhouse, 200 Stuart St., Boston, 800-447-7400, stuartstreetplayhouse.com.