Assassins By Steven Sondheim
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Cory Boughton, Kevin Sigman, Marcie Schwalm, Nathan Bartman
Seminole State College, Lake Mary FL
Sure. “Shoot the President”. That’s your answer to everything if you live in this nether world of mis-motivated political operatives. Sitting high upon the throne of gunpowder politics is John Wilkes Booth (Boughton). A string of bad reviews drove him to shoot a middling president and boosting him in the polls. The reviews he got after his bold move were worse than ever, and when they cops burnt him out of his barn he learned a belated lesson – no one appreciates the sacrifice you make for others. While Booth seems somewhat rational, all the other assassins seem completely unhinged but still possessing a twisted internal logic. Giuseppe Zangara (Fredy Ruiz) seems motivated more by a stomach ulcer than any politics, Sara Jane Moore (Schwalm) brings her kid and dog to the assassination and ends up throwing bullets at Jerry Ford, and we never hear from John Schrank who actually popped a cap into Teddy Roosevelt. Then there are the really scary ones: Squeaky Fromme thought Chucky Manson was the Son of God, Leon Czologosz (Cory Owen) fantasized about Emma Goldman, and Samuel Byck (Michael Sapp) wore a Santa suit and thought he could pilot a 747 into Dick Nixon’s White House. At least Al Qaeda took flying lessons first.
Even by Sondheim standards, this is a totally bizarre show, yet clearly in the sweet spot of local impresario John DiDonna’s theatrical mission. The story vignettes put past history into context, and make the viewer rethink that common dismissal of a shooter “Oh, he’s just nuts.” Sanity may be a rare commodity among freelance assassin, but every evil spirit must believe that what they are doing is somehow justified. Amongst all this high fiber political history are some very nice musical numbers. “The Ballad of Booth” melodically recalls the sense of anger the civil war brought to American political discourse 150 years ago, while “The Ballad of Guiteau” reveals the grandiose and ever expanding mind of a man who thought he could do anything. “Another National Anthem” ties all these world shaking logic into a tuneful if not coherent argument that leads us to the best role in the show – Lee Harvey Oswald (Bartman). With a failed marriage, worse than awful military career, and two defections to his credit, Oswald comes across as a despicable looser who debated suicide or assassination as a way out. He takes a plastic rifle and pans the audience, delivering a slug into the brain of Americas post war superiority complex, and enshrining himself as the permanent American Antichrist.
Killing the president rarely fixes the problem you perceived. The System is too large and redundant to change for the loss of one man, no matter how important. And the bad guys and lunatics are much more interesting than the sane, especially if you can just pay to see them in the freak show. Finally, Sondheim can spin a decent musical out of the least promising material. “Assassins” keeps getting produced, and while you might not resonate with its internal politics this production entertains all the way from the opening Parade of the Styrofoam Presidents to the final volley of shots aimed at the audience. This is True Crime, told on a grand scale.
For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre/