Playwrights and composers have never admitted that there is a topic for a musical that cannot be dealt with successfully. Whether it is the sinking of the Titanic or the taboo topic of mental illness, the issues have been faced straight on and with eyes wide open. The current offering at the Yale Repertory Theatre does push the explosive edge of the envelope to a disturbingly dangerous level with "Assassins," the book by John Weidman and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, taking center stage at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven until Saturday, April 8.
These two enterprising gentleman have focused their attention on nine wannabe members of history, seven men and two women, who for reasons of their own, decided to kill a president. Whether they were mentally ill or merely misguided, courageous in their desire to change the world or right a wrong, their voices will be heard in word and song.
Set in a shooting gallery run by the proprietor (Austin Durant), guns are easily obtained and ready to be utilized to satisfy desires. The idea is to use a gun to realize a dream and become happy in the process. The treachery by these traitors is examined. They each feel they are victims of scorn and injustice and that their deeds are justified, no matter the price. They want to occupy a place in history, even if it costs them their lives.
John Wilkes Booth, a strong minded Robert Lenzi, leads off the sobering parade with his assassination of President Lincoln, and then returns to the artillery field to encourage a hesitant Lee Harvey Oswald, played by Dylan Frederick, who also serves as the balladeer or singing narrator. All the participants in the tableau of violence return to cheer on Oswald in his deed to kill President Kennedy. Along the way we meet Leon Czolgosz (P. J. Griffith) who takes the life of President McKinley, John Hinckley (Lucas Dixon) who tries to kill Reagan, Charles Guiteau (Stephen DeRosa) who takes out James Garfield (Brian Ray Norris), Guiseppe Zangara (Stanley Bahorek) who wants to shoot FDR, Samuel Byck (Richard R. Henry) who sets his sights on Nixon and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Lauren Molina) and Sara Jane Moore (Julia Murney) who work together to take down Gerald Ford (Fred Inkley).
Whether they succeed or not, their stories are bizarre, macabre and worthy of a song or three, in a number of folk singing genres. You, the audience, are invited to probe the recesses of the minds of these deeply disturbed individuals, to be shocked by the black humor and complicated issues involved. One hundred years of American history will be paraded by and you are not asked for sympathy or empathy, but rather for a level of understanding of the problems of these human beings.
The shooting gallery at the carnival corners all the action as the Proprietor provides the weapons of choice for all the participants. He entices them to play the game, promising that shooting a President will bizarrely solve their problems, in the song “Everybody’s Got the Right.” Meanwhile the Balladeer, who represents the American Dream, tells each character’s story in turn. Please be forewarned that this show may not be suitable for all ages due to its subject matter. Artistic director James Bundy will direct and Andrea Grody will oversee the music in this intricate and involving exploration of the darker days of our heritage.
For tickets ($12-99), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m.
Let the Yale Rep introduce you to these nine infamous personages who celebrate violence in a nightmarish and controversial manner.