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In the play, Kennedy becomes "John Ken O'Dunc", Lyndon Johnson becomes "MacBird", Lady Bird Johnson becomes "Lady MacBird", etc. As Macbeth assassinates Duncan, so MacBird assassinates Ken O'Dunc. As Macbeth is defeated by Macduff, so MacBird is defeated by Robert Ken O'Dunc (Robert Kennedy). The plot is also influenced by the Three Witches, representing Students, Blacks, and Leftists.
In a 2006 Washington Post interview, Garson said she was not seriously accusing Johnson of being complicit in the Kennedy assassination:
"People used to ask me then, 'Do you really think Johnson killed Kennedy?'" Garson, now 65, recalls. "I never took that seriously. I used to say to people, 'If he did, it's the least of his crimes.' It was not what the play was about. The plot was a given."
The play parodies aspects of Shakespearean tragedies including Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III, with Texas and Boston accents. The plot follows MacBird from the 1960 Democratic National Convention, when he becomes John Ken O'Dunc's Vice President ("Hail, Vice-President thou art!"), to Ken O'Dunc's assassination, at the urging of Lady MacBird. Robert Ken O'Dunc then defeats MacBird at the 1968 convention.
Macbird! began as a short satirical sketch by Garson, a recent graduate of the anti-Vietnam war movement at University of California, Berkeley. She developed the piece into a full-length play with help from writer/director Roy Levine.
The play, which opened just three years after Kennedy's assassination, was controversial. Some believe that authorities pressured theaters in New York City against producing the play. The Village Gate was the only theater willing to defy this pressure. Macbird! opened there on February 22, 1967, and closed on January 21, 1968, after 386 performances.
Levine, who worked with Garson to develop the sketch to a full-length play, was the original director of Macbird! His bold theatrical vision marked the production throughout the run, though, near the end of the previews, he was replaced by Gerald Freedman. Set design was by Clarke Dunham, costumes were by Jeanne Button, and lights were by Robert Brand. Joel Zwick was the stage manager.
The original cast included:
- Stacy Keach as MacBird
- Rue McClanahan as Lady MacBird,
- Paul Hecht as John Ken O'Dunc
- William Devane as Robert Ken O'Dunc
- John Pleshette as Ted Ken O'Dunc
- John Clark as Earl of Warren
- Cleavon Little as Witch 2
The original cast recorded a two-disc album of the script on February 6, 1967. The album was released in a box set, along with a copy of the script, on the Evergreen label (Evergreen - EVR 004).
John Clark left the production early to marry Lynn Redgrave. Cleavon Little made his professional acting debut in the play. The play had a long engagement, with a different cast in Los Angeles, where Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968 while running for the Democratic presidential nomination. MacBird! was also produced at the Committee Theater in San Francisco around 1968.
- Horwitz, Jane (2006-09-05). "She Hopes 'MacBird' Flies in a New Era". ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
- Martin, Douglas. "Rue McClanahan, Actress and Golden Girl, Dies at 76," The New York Times, Friday, June 4, 2010.