Was the Zapruder film altered? 'Frame 312' may or may not answer the question

By Penny Rathbun
Staff writer


Every baby boomer and their parents remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Baby boomers also remember the conspiracy theories that sprung up soon after that murder that are still a part of our culture today, especially in the Metroplex. Such a seminal event, resolved or not, casts a shadow over a culture and a generation. Rover Dramawerks' production of the play "Frame 312" is about that shadow.

In Keith Reddin's play Lynnette is a secretary at Life Magazine in New York in November, 1963. Her magazine bought the 26-second film of the assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder that day. Lynnette is asked to view the film, along with her boss and a ballistics expert. She has to view it over and over. It affects her to the point she tells her boss that the film should never be released to the public.
Her boss, Graham, played by Corey Whaley, with appropriate 60s style executive uptightness, eventually gives her the original Zapruder film for safekeeping. She thought she had taken the original film to Washington a few years before and personally handed it over to J. Edgar Hoover.

Lynette at Life Magazine is played by Rachel Schnitzium Rouse. She makes Lynnette a smart, young career woman who is caught up in a moment of history that will affect the rest of her life. She can't tell anyone what she has seen on the film or even that she possesses it. Rouse gives Lynnette an on-the-verge quality. It's not clear whether Lynnette is distraught because she harbors an insidious secret about what is really on the film or because she gave up her career as an editor for Life Magazine because in the early 60s that is what was expected of young women. Her tremulousness is probably a result of both, but Rouse portrays the angst from the era just before flower power beautifully.

One of the interesting things about "Frame 312" is that the audience sees Lynnette as the young secretary and also 30 years later, when her children are grown and she is a widow. Tracy Hurd plays Lynnette in the 1990s. Her grown children are impossible and she has settled into a kind of uneasy ceasefire between her and the Zapruder film. Hurd takes the fear and dissatisfaction portrayed by Rouse and shellacs it over with the coping mechanisms of a middle-aged woman. Hurd's Lynnette seems to have made peace with the long-ago event and possessing the film, but it's clear she hasn't really. Something about the way she holds her shoulders and takes an object from her pocket, a small reel of film she claims is the real thing, that makes the audience sympathize with her unspoken wish to have stayed at Life Magazine.

Lynnette's grown children would make anyone want to retreat to the 1960s. Her son, played by Shane Strawbridge is a short-tempered, ungrateful clod who tries to weasel money out of his mother. Strawbridge's aura of boyish innocence makes the son seem that much more domineering when he yells at everyone. He has a particularly villainous moment when he can't remember the name of one of his daughters.

Lynnette's daughter Stephanie is played by Martha Newton. Stephanie is a bundle of nerves just looking to pick a fight with anybody that crosses her path. She gets into it with her brother and her mother and it isn't until she and her mother actually watch the Zapruder film that she stands still. Newton must be exhausted at the end of each performance, as hyperactive as Stephanie is. She is both fun and maddening to watch.

Joslyn Justus plays the put-upon wife who has to put up with Tom's obnoxious behavior. As the wife, Justus give the character a long-suffering and unappreciated quality. Richelle Grevesen plays Lynette's best friend. She is the perfect sidekick to Lynnette's life.
Jim Croall has a variety of roles. His turn as an FBI agent is the best one. Carol Rice's direction highlights the ambiguity in this play. She places the characters squarely in their decades and lets the audience decide if their worries are due to kept secrets, the effect of one big violent event or just the vagaries of life. Her handling of the conflicts generates the question of whether or not the JFK assassination is of much interest any more, even in Dallas, something most baby boomers may never have considered.

Rice's direction does what excellent theatre should do - ask questions and point to suggested answers, but there are no answers in this play. Before the play starts the audio is a recording of the unedited broadcast of Dallas' KLIF radio station the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.

Following the March 24 performance Rover Dramawerks, in conjunction with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will conduct a discussion of shared memories about the events in Dallas in November, 1963.

The play is at the Cox Building Playhouse in Plano through March 31. For a unique take on a historical event and for an interesting evening of theatre, go see "Frame 312."