Theater role puts suburban native on trail of JFK's killer

 
By Amanda Svachula
asvachula@dailyherald.com
Posted8/9/2015 6:15 AM
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  • Michael Mitchell, left, plays reporter Hillel Levin, right, in Levin's "Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century." The world-premiere play about the assassination of John F. Kennedy plays the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

    Michael Mitchell, left, plays reporter Hillel Levin, right, in Levin's "Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century." The world-premiere play about the assassination of John F. Kennedy plays the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

It's 1963, and, amid chaos, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Michael Mitchell is living in Hoffman Estates at the time. Just 1 year old, he can't comprehend what is happening. But in the months and years that follow, Mitchell recalls later, he feels a sense of dread.

"I was barely walking after JFK was assassinated," Mitchell said. "But I remember this pervading paranoia in my parents and everyone around me. That whole decade, people didn't know which shoe was going to drop next."

More than a half-century later, Mitchell, now a Chicago actor, will perform in an upcoming run of "Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of a Century," which attempts to answer questions surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The play, directed by Kevin Fox, will be presented at Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Mitchell plays Hillel Levin, a real-life Forest Park-based investigative reporter and the play's author. Levin said he wrote the play after he stumbled upon compelling information about the Chicago mob's ties to the killing.

Levin had a background in investigative reporting, especially on Chicago crime. In 2007, he wrote "Boosting the Big Tuna" for Playboy, an article about burglars who broke into the home of Tony Accardo, a longtime leader of Chicago's mob. Soon after the article was published, FBI agent Zechariah Shelton contacted Levin with information about the Chicago mob's connections to the Kennedy assassination.

This led Levin to a seven-year investigation into the assassination, with help from information that Shelton had gathered originally.

While the Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, the findings have been heavily questioned over the years, and theories about what happened to the president abound. In 1978, the House of Representatives' Select Committee on Assassinations looked at the likelihood of a second gunman and cited a conspiracy. Even now, decades later, there is much debate about who exactly was involved in the assassination.

"For whatever reason we have averted our eyes (from the assassination)," Levin said. "It has been effective for people who deny conspiracy. They ridicule you for even looking."

After years of sifting through documents, from FBI agent testimony to the Warren Commission Report, Levin created a theatrical display of what he sees as the most concrete facts.

"I think that the assassination was a carefully staged event that put the blame on one actor," Levin said. "When you look at the events, not just as history, but as you look at theater, you start to see things emerge from the people who did the plotting."

In "Assassination Theater," Levin specifically highlights the Chicago mob and its leader at the time, Tony Accardo, someone he believes had even more power than Al Capone. The hallmark of the members of the mob in Chicago is how intentionally understated they were, said Levin.

"(Tony Accardo) really did not want people to be flamboyant. That's how they kept things quiet. Most people in Chicago joke about corruption and things like that. They have no clue how bad it really was."

Levin's character, and Shelton's character, played by Mark Ulrich, will take the audience on a tumultuous journey as they discover different figures the play ties to the assassination.

"The trail is sometimes jaw-dropping," Mitchell said.

The set is a 1960s-era crime lab, equipped with file cabinets and big projectors. Though the show deals with one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history, it still has a sense of theater and play, said Mitchell.

"I think people are going to be riveted," Mitchell said. "And there will be a lot of arguments heading back to cars."

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