Directed by Kate Roe ‘14
MIT Musical Theater Guild
September 2-4, 8-10, 15-17, 2011
Kresge Little Theatre
If you are at all familiar with American history, you will know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. You might even know that Charles Guiteau assassinated President James Garfield and Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley. But what about those who failed, like John Hinckley, Jr, attempted assassin of President Ronald Regan? Why did they do it?
Assassins, MIT Musical Theater Guild’s fall show, delves into the characters and motivations of nine people that all attempted to kill a president, successfully or otherwise. Urged by the mysterious Proprietor, each is convinced that the solution to their problems — class inequality, lack of attention, even stomachache — is the death of a president. Although the fate of each character won’t be a surprise if you know your history, the musical keeps your attention through the vivid characterizations of each of the assassins, the music, and the attention to detail through costume and set.
Even with nine main characters, Assassins manages to delve deep into each killer’s motivations. For me, the most sympathetic assassin was Leon Czolgosz (Edmund Golaski ’99), who wants to protest the class inequalities in America, and laments in “The Gun Song” that “a gun kills many men before it’s done … men in the mines and in the steel mills … who died for what?”
In the end, what unites each of the assassins is the desire for attention, and the realization that the only way to get it is to commit a tremendous crime. Rachel Bowen-Rubin ’11 as the Proprietor steals the show, cajoling, consoling, and even executing the assassins, all in a pseudo-patriotic red-and-white costume that raises questions as to whether she is the personification of “the other American Dream” of all those Americans who are marginalized by society.
Like any show about historical events, details about the characters have been changed to provide a better story. Most of the inaccuracies are in the copious anachronisms needed to have all nine assassins interacting at the same time, such as when Charles Guiteau (Danbee Kim ’09) attempts to seduce an unwilling Sara Jane Moore (Nicole O’Keeffe ’09), despite not living in the same century. However, many details, like Guiteau’s kelptomania and Guiseppe Zangara’s (Matt Behlmann G) stomach pains are accurate.
This production of Assassins departs from tradition, especially during the first song where the assassins pick up their guns as if they had been won in a shooting game. Other productions of Assassins, including MTG’s 2002 production, have traditionally used a carnival theme, but here the set is an accurate recreation of the Texas School Book Depository where Oswald shot Kennedy. Even more impressive is the light-up stairs reminiscent of old-time theater extravaganzas, befitting the hanging of the flamboyant Guiteau. Creative use of lighting adds to the atmosphere when Samuel Byck (Greg Lohman G) takes his last drive to hijack an airplane, monologuing in the night.
The most notable leitmotif is “Hail to the Chief,” which is panicked, disturbing, or elegiac by turns. Catchy tunes like the ironic “Everybody’s Got the Right” will keep you humming for days afterwards. The obligatory love duet “Unworthy of Your Love” between John Hinckley (Victor Cary ’14), infatuated by Jodie Foster and offering the death of a president as a gift to her, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Kirsten Olson ’14), a disciple of murderer Charlie Manson, manages to avoid tedium with its disturbing sincerity. A special note goes to Zachary Barryte ’13 as John Wilkes Booth, whose baritone voice cuts across the theater.
Dark, but with dashes of comedy, Assassins transcends a melodramatic subject matter to touch upon injustice, real or imagined. Although short by musical standards, and with foregone conclusions, this show will keep you entertained to the last gunshot.