In his Tony Award-winning musical Assassins, Stephen Sondheim states that “Angry men don’t write the rules, and guns don’t right the wrongs.” Through their production of this same musical, the cast and crew of Spotlight UB and Stillpointe Theatre Initiative tell the stories of several people who disagree with these words and tried to change the world (or at least their own lives) because of it.
Sondheim’s Assassins imagines a scenario where several of the most well-known people who tried to assassinate United States Presidents gather together in one room. They relate the tales of their assassination attempts (some of them successful) and find that while they are all different, there is still a similar set of emotions that runs through all of their minds and hearts.
The Proprietors (Jaimie Yates and Kevin Cook) and the Balladeer (the honey-voiced John Schratwieser) begin the tales with the saga of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, played with passion and gusto by Will Emory. Emory is especially compelling towards the end of the show, as he rallies Lee Harvey Oswald (portrayed with the perfect balance of vulnerability and strength by Jon Kevin Lazarus) to follow in his deadly footsteps.
Patrick Martyn brilliantly portrays President Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau. Martyn’s Guiteau tries to play the role of a confident jokester, but it is clear that the jolly nature is used to mask his madness and pain.
As John Hinckley, Jim Biernatowski beautifully expresses his love to his movie star crush in Lawrence D. Bryant IV’s smooth delivery of the Italian language in his fiery portrayal of Giuseppe Zangara.
Brian S Kraszewski plays President McKinley’s assassin Leon Czolgosz in a meaningful and heart-wrenching way, and his voice is hauntingly beautiful during “The Gun Song.”
Donna Fox is not only the spitting image of Emma Goldman, but she also perfectly exemplifies Goldman’s strength and grace.
The audience roared with laughter but could also feel the pain of John C. Wilson’s Sam Byck. Kudos to Costumers Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase for the decision to dress Wilson in a Santa suit, a historically-accurate and intelligent decision, referring to one of the protests for which Byck was arrested.
Stealing the show are the portrayers of Squeaky Fromme (Chelsea Paradiso) and Sara Jane Moore (Ashleigh Haddad), respectively. The ladies not only have incredibly strong and beautiful singing voices, but their chemistry and comedic timing are pure excellence.
Co-Directors Ryan Haase of Stillpointe Theatre Initiative and Kimberley Lynne of the University of Baltimore brilliantly bring the stories of these troubled individuals to life. When the actors are directed to point their (replica) guns at the audience and stare into the darkness with their wild eyes, chills ran down my spine because of the power of the moment.
Haase’s scenic design is also top-notch, working the red, white and blue of the American flag into what appears to be a classroom, but when the audience discovers where the assassins are truly meeting towards the end of the play, the set design suddenly becomes much more profound.
Lighting Designer Janine Vreatt perfectly illuminates the stage, especially during the painful song, “Something Just Broke.”
Musical Director Howard B. Shaver leads an orchestra that performs beautifully, but at my performance the music drowned out several of the musical numbers, making it very difficult to hear the singing. I am confident this will be corrected as the run continues.
In a letter to his beloved Leonard Bernstein, Sam Byck encourages the composer to ask himself, “Do I want to live in a world where Sam Byck has to drop a 747 on the White House?” Through the use of Sondheim’s iconic words and music, and a terrific cast, Spotlight UB and Stillpointe Theatre Initiative do a bang-up job in their production of Assassins of telling the stories of those who feel that violence is their only avenue towards recognition.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.