Serving as both adapter of Don DeLillo’s acclaimed novel and director, Steppenwolf ensemble member John Malkovich has delivered what amounts to a stillborn new play.
Disjointed and finally done in by a distracting mishmash of audiovisual pyrotechnics, “Libra” resolutely refuses to come to life as it tries to dramatize an elaborate plot to kill President Kennedy.
Malkovich’s adaptation of DeLillo’s novel tracks the conspiracy from inception to the assassination, using the meek and creepy character of Lee Harvey Oswald as a focal point. But perhaps because Laurie Metcalf is giving one of her wild, fascinating, attention-grabbing performances in the role of the homosexual Ferrie, one of the JFK conspirators, the play’s focus always seems to be veering away from Oswald.
More problematic is the choppy storyline. The conspiracy involves a large number of characters, and Malkovich’s adaptation quickly becomes an annoying muddle of faces and plotlines.
Malkovich originally wanted to adapt the DeLillo novel for the screen; when Oliver Stone did the JFK conspiracy story first on film, Malkovich shifted his piece to the stage. But “Libra” is awkward as theatrical drama.
The assassination itself is depicted in a lengthy videotape sequence, which slows the production’s already deadly pace.
Excepting Metcalf’s Herculean efforts in the dual roles of Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, the performances rarely rise above merely acceptable.