Warning: This review contains spoilers.
The old saying, “history always repeats itself,” has even greater meaning today as tensions between the U.S. and Russia continue to escalate while American leaders struggle to balance political ambitions with constituents’ demands for radical change.
Among many concerned citizens, there also remains the question of the degree to which the CIA wields its power to advance American global hegemony and control media narratives about U.S. military campaigns abroad.
Sixty years ago, during the height of both the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, it might have been likely that Mary Pinchot Meyer, a D.C.-based painter with Communist leanings, frequently addressed these issues with none other than her alleged lover, President John F. Kennedy.
In 1964, less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination, Pinchot Meyer would be shot and killed during a walk along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. By the late 70s, her alleged affair with Kennedy and the circumstances of her death had become fodder for heated discussions, news stories and even a biography.
And now, through March 6 at Arena Stage in Southwest, history buffs and theater aficionados can learn about Pinchot Meyer, Kennedy and other Cold War-era figures during the world premiere of “Change Agent,” written and directed by Craig Lucas.
As the eighth installment in the Power Play initiative, “Change Agent” continues a tradition of highlighting American political stories and examining the people, events and ideas that have shaped our nation’s identity.
The production provides an opportunity for audiences to not only revisit history but to question whether world peace can ever be achieved as nations continue to jockey for worldwide dominance.
The play focuses on pivotal moments in history, beginning in the 1930s and ending at Pinchot Meyer’s death. Shortly after Mary (Andrea Abello) and Jack Kennedy (Luis Vega) cross paths, viewers learn how the bombing of Hiroshima and the United Nations’ shortcomings set off a series of conversations about the CIA, Communism, civil rights and the prospect of achieving peace and equality.
As Mary’s husband Cord (Jeffrey Omura), a CIA agent, further deviates from the idea of a “world government” that brought him and Mary together, she becomes more intimate with Jack who she first met while in high school.
Mary and Jack keep in touch throughout college, Jack’s tours of duty in World War II and his ascent to the White House. All the while, she admonishes him for his trysts with other women and lack of progressiveness in the realms of racial justice and world peace.
When she begins to learn about the true nature of her husband’s work, Mary becomes increasingly concerned about the CIA’s control of the White House. Her demands of Jack throughout the play include the desegregation of the Secret Service, support for Civil Rights legislation and a one-on-one dialogue with Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Toward the end of “Change Agent,” after the Cuban missile crisis and a somewhat spiritual awakening facilitated by Mary, Jack seems to be on the verge of a political pivot – one that’s aborted with his untimely death. After Jack’s assassination in Dallas, Mary spends the final year of her life trying to bring to light what she alleged as the CIA’s role in that catastrophic event.
“Change Agent,” a work of historical fiction, comes decades after widespread dialogue about Pinchot Meyer’s life and who truly bears responsibility for her death. In recent years, theories about CIA involvement in her death have been revived through articles and news specials on fringe platforms.
In part, this speaks to the appeal of Pinchot Meyer, our intrigue with the Cold War era and a deep-seated distrust among many Americans of the powers that be in the modern era.
Undoubtedly, those who see this play may be forced to question their allegiance to forces within the U.S. government that continue to inflict harm domestically and abroad. After that, they may even wonder what role they might play in dismantling these forces.
As “Change Agent” illustrates, everyone has a part to play in the manifestation of America’s future, no matter how minute, mundane or seemingly insignificant that role may be.