By Manning Harris
“Assassins,” a musical revue with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, directed by Justin Anderson, is currently playing at Fabrefaction Theatre Company through Nov. 11. It will seem an odd choice to many, especially during a Presidential Election year, dealing as it does with presidential assassins throughout American history.
But when you’ve got the magic name “Sondheim” in your corner, easily the most revered and influential person in American theatre, you can get away with a lot. No, this is not one of his “big”shows: It had short runs Off-Broadway and in London before a long gestation period brought it to Broadway in 2004, where it ran for 101 performances but still managed to win five Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a musical. So attention must be paid, and Fabrefaction has given the show a first class production with a fine cast.
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” This quote is by D.H. Lawrence, and I first heard it in Jodie Foster’s powerful 2007 film “The Brave One,” a film about gun control, among other things.
You may not like or agree with this thought, but relax—it’s just show biz, folks! And herein lies “Assassins’” fascinating dichotomy: The most infamous assassins (and would-be assassins) in history are just people, like you and me, and life has dealt them an unsatisfying hand. So they feel entitled to alter reality a bit. And we’re all due our 15 minutes of fame, right?
So when you see Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Wood) being urged (in a fantasy sequence) to make something of himself and do something he’ll be remembered for, and you start cheering him on, you may think you’ve lost your mind.
But that’s the nature of this wacky, haunting piece of theatre. “Everybody’s Got the Right,” says the first number. To do what? That’s what you’ll be debating as you leave the theatre.
Into this fun-house carnival atmosphere come John Wilkes Booth (Brian Clowdus), Guiseppe Zangara (Dan Ford), who fired at FDR and missed; “Squeaky” Fromme (Christina Hoff) and Sara Jane Moore (Heidi Cline McKerley), both of whom just had it in for President Ford; Samuel Byck (Michael Henry Harris), who didn’t like Richard Nixon, Emma Goldman (Paige Mattox), that revolutionary firebrand you might remember from Warren Beatty’s film “Reds”; John Hinckley (Craig Waldrip), who tries his best to impress Jodie Foster; the Proprietor (Shane Desmond-Williams), and several others (it’s a large, talented cast, most of whom sing extremely well.
Others in the cast are Daniel Hilton (as Leon Czolgosz, who shot President McKinley), Sam Constantino, Allen Hill, Steve Hudson (as Charles Guiteau), Matt Lewis, Diane Mitchell, and Jeremy Varner.
Music direction by Nick Silvestri; choreography by Becca Potter.
Director Anderson has assembled an outstanding cast and has guided them seamlessly; I might add that I particularly enjoyed the sequences that were played downstage; those moments involve the audience more; and Fabrefaction has a huge stage.
It is my guess that people who really love the art of theatre and appreciate the sleight of hand it is capable of will love this show the most. And, to be honest, some will be quite unsettled by it. That never bothered the Greeks. Personally, I applaud their boldness and execution. This week would be a good one to see this show.
For more information, visit fabrefaction.org.