Nov. 02--With polls showing more than two-thirds of Americans anxious or fearful about the country's direction, Assassins registers as a powerful cautionary fable about what not to do in response.
The provocative musical by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman -- suggested for mature audiences because of violent themes and strong language -- is well-timed as the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination approaches.
Though quite different in some ways from Players Theatre's 1993 staging, Red Herring Productions' adroit Assassins might linger in the memory almost as long.
Under the crisp direction of John Dranschak, the two-hour one-act explores the darkest side of American history and politics, and its roots in everyday alienation.
At the opening on Thursday in the Riffe Center, Ian Short cut a silky figure as President Abraham Lincoln's killer, John Wilkes Booth, who hovers over his successors as an avenging angel.
Drew Eberly, Scott Wilson and Jay Rittberger resonate as disturbed presidential assassins, but Todd Covert stands out as Nixon-era Sam Byck -- usually one of the least consequential assassins and characters -- because he plumbs the rage beneath the comic frustrations of a born loser.
Kim Garrison Hopcraft (as harried housewife Sara Jane Moore) and Kate Lingnofski (as Charles Manson devotee Squeaky Fromme) expertly mine the 1970s-era comedy of errors of two would-be killers of President Gerald Ford.
Christopher Storer, who plays Reagan-era John Hinckley with quiet nerdiness, exposes his yearnings in Unworthy of Your Love, Sondheim's ode to 1970s pop hits.
Nick Lingnofski is especially tuneful as the Balladeer, who weaves his wry commentary into various chapters of U.S. history.
Backed by a polished seven-member onstage band led by music director Pam Welsh-Huggins, the 18-member ensemble finds the angry drama and bitter ironies of Another National Anthem; Everybody's Got the Right; and the wistful Kennedy-era desolation of Something Just Broke, a later Sondheim addition to one of his best scores.
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