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Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman
Steve Tipton as The Proprietor
and Peter Joshua as Giuseppe Zangara
Will Gartshore as John Wilkes Booth
Like Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomsons opera The Mother of Us
All, Stephen Sondheims music theater work Assassins with book by John Weidman is a landscape
of characters drawn from real people across time who anachronistically interact with each
other. Signature Theatre of Arlington, Virginia, a theater group specializing in
Sondheims work, has mounted an outstanding, psychologically relevant-to-our-times
production. Under the direction of Joe Calarco, Assassins,
a two-hour show without intermission, is a shocking mirror of who we are as Americans.
Assassins include such familiar names as John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, and John
Hinckley.Four Saints In Three Acts (an opera also by Stein and Thomson), and Our Town (a
play by Thornton Wilder), the Proprietor weaves in and out of the action helping to set
the scene or explain the situation in progress. In a cast of veteran award-winning
players, Steve Tipton as The Proprietor seems a lightweight when the role begs an
in-your-face and darker persona. Tiptons performance is not bad, it just does not
Held together by a carnival barker-like character called The
Proprietor, Assassins is not a linear story.
Like narrating characters in The Mother of Us All,
Stand out performers include Donna Migliaccio as Sara Jane Moore, Erin
Driscoll as Lynette Squeaky Fromme, and Will Gartshore as John Wilkes Booth.
Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme, also known as Charles Mansons
girlfriend, were involved with the failed assassination attempts against Gerald Ford. As Moore,
Migliaccio portrays an out-to-lunch soccer-mom-type-turned-radical who gets fired by the
FBI as an informant and then joins forces with the Manson group. Migliaccios timing
is impeccable as she delivers numerous comic lines and actions that trump the dark subject
matter of disaffected people attempting to kill American presidents. Saturday Night Live comes to mind as
Migliaccio, in inept frustration, gives up trying to load her gun and throws the
uncooperative bullets and finally her dead lap dog, which she accidentally killed, at the
Erin Driscoll as Fromme is a convincing Fleur-du-mal Hippy slave to
Manson. Manson, however, is not a character in Assassins.
His substitute, with whom Fromme interacts and shows her need to be loved, is John
Hinckley played by Nevermore composer Matt Conner. Conner does a
satisfying job portraying the young man so obsessed with movie star Jody Foster that he
attempts to assassinate Ronald Reagan to get Fosters attention.
The male player who distinguishes himself is Will Gartshore as John
Wilkes Booth. Gartshore has penetrating contact with the audience. In a work where the
fourth wall does not exist because the audience can hardly tell where their seats end and
the actors seats begin, Gartshore, with his engaging singing and speaking voice, seems to
be at all times standing next to everyone in the audience. Weidman and Sondheim are
effective in making the viewer understand the anguish each assassin has suffered and
Gartshore gives a visceral twist to John Wilkes Booths emotional state and his
complaint that Abraham Lincoln has been responsible for the deaths of so many Americans,
especially in the South. With a similar situation of loss resulting from the war in Iraq
today, the Assassins creators in combination
with Calarcos direction provide a new look at people Americans have seen as
devastatingly evil or criminally deranged.
Although Sondheims music for Assassins does not command the same engagement as
the music in Sweeney Todd or A Little Night Music, the compositions are
stimulating and weave in snippets of such familiar music as John Philip Sousas
Post March, Christian hymns, gospel ballads, cakewalks, country hoedowns.
Arlington, June 18, 2006
Karren L. Alenier