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ARTS NOTES

Staging an antipoverty pilgrimage

August 15, 2004|Don Shirley

Most theatrical productions that try to reenact historical events are confined to two or three hours. But "RFK in EKY" will take two days and travel to at least 11 sites to re-create a 1968 tour of eastern Kentucky that Robert Kennedy took as part of a Senate subcommittee study of the war on poverty.

On Sept. 9 and 10, community volunteers will trace the path of the 1968 odyssey and act out major parts of it. John Malpede, founder and director of L.A.'s skid row-based theater company Los Angeles Poverty Department, initiated the event and is staging it for Appalshop, a community-based media and cultural center in Whitesburg, Ky. -- one of the stops along Kennedy's route.

A few of the participants in the 1968 event are playing parts in the re-creation. But Malpede says he isn't attempting a verbatim reproduction. Jack Faust, a lawyer from the area, is playing Kennedy, but "no one will mistake him for RFK" in either his looks or his accent, the director says. Some of the original sites have been altered since 1968, so nearby sites will serve as substitutes. And the event is being staged in September instead of February, when the actual trip took place, to avoid erratic winter weather.

The goal is to "find a resonance between that moment and this moment," Malpede says. The reenacted events will be supplemented by an array of talks and discussions and an exhibition about the original events and their application to current events in the area.

"We're trying to provide a platform for people to have a meaningful civic conversation," Malpede says. "It's hard to stay rooted in 1968. It keeps flipping into the present."

Still, an effort will be made to represent 1968 cosmetically -- the event will be preceded by a pancake breakfast and styling party in which participants will take on costumes and coiffures appropriate to the earlier era.

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