Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Assassins

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman
Sevans Productions
Pleasance Theatre

Sevans Production of Assassins immediately sets the satirical tone by giving us the fleeting glimpse of a tableau on a revolving stage of eager grinning tourists complete with cameras and an American flag which is followed by a carnival shooting gallery in which the proprietor (Peter Watts) urges us to “c’mere and kill a president”.

The show’s nine assassins will mostly succeed in killing presidents represented by their faces on masks worn by cartoon figures whose voices are spoken by the proprietor from a standing mike to the right of the stage. But not before we see something of why they kill, their characters and reasons being explored dramatically through songs whose styles vary according to the particular individual.

There is John Wilkes Booth (Alexander McMorran) who kills Lincoln, “the man who killed my country,” and Leon Czolgosz (Conor McFarlane) who shoots the “round and prosperous” McKinley as a protest against the oppression of working people.

Humour lightens the tone. There are small amusing if unsettling touches such as the Santa Claus costume worn by Sam Byck (Alfie Parker) as he carries a placard demanding his “constitutional rights”.

Andrew Pepper is very effective as Charles Guiteau relishing every word he delivers.

Particularly funny is the moment he meets Abigail Williams whose own superb comic timing as Sara Jane Moore is capable of making you laugh at the turn of a phrase or a sudden facial expression.

But the mood can quickly switch and there is an edge of tragedy to Andrew Pepper’s remarkable comic gospel-style song as Guiteau dancing up the steps of the gallows.

There are many fine scenes in this production. However the strongest is possibly the occasion when John Wilkes Booth steps into the Texas book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald (Jason Kajdi) is about to kill himself and persuades him instead to kill President Kennedy.

Possibly the most sympathetic character is Leon Czolgosz who in a sensitively drawn scene offers to carry the bag of the socialist revolutionary Emma Goldman whom he had seen the night before at a meeting where the police broke her arm. As they walk, they talk gently of the way the world could be different.

And perhaps if it had been different there would be fewer people so desperate they considered it necessary to kill a president.

But it isn’t different so these assassins are “the other national anthem folks, the ones that can’t get in to the ball park. Spread the word.”

And as they turn in the closing moments of the show pointing their guns at the pictures of dead presidents, a new picture appears, that of Donald Trump.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna