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Jane Enkin


by Jane Enkin,Jan 24, 2013


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by John Weidman

Directed by Adam Brazier

presented by Ontario companies Birdland Theatre and Talk Is Free Theatre

at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre

to February 2, 2013


Assassins is a brilliant production of a challenging show. With affecting portrayals of repellent characters, with realistic moments of passion alternating with music hall, vaudeville and carnival references, the play disturbs and intrigues the audience.


Many questions arise. Are “freedom” and “happiness” potentially misleading, even dangerous goals? How did these individuals become killers – are they outsiders, or inevitable products of their society? Is the same impulse that drove their violence behind the more recent shootings in Montreal, Colorado and Massachusetts? And would it help in any way to improve the control of access to guns?


Guns and gun control were on everyone's minds last night. I was lucky enough to attend the “talk back” session after the show. (These take place on the first Tuesday of each MTC run.) The actors pointed out that lines that drew laughter in earlier productions meet with hushed silence in 2013 (mind you, there is still plenty of “gallows humour” in this show.) An actor talked about American friends who praise Canada as a place so different from the US, but automatically reject any idea of getting rid of guns. “It's like taking fighting out of hockey,” he said.


The action of Assassins takes place in a kind of special hell for those who attempted or succeeded in the assassination of an American president. They range in era from John Wilkes Booth, who killed Lincoln, to John Hinckley, who took a shot at Ronald Reagan ( a helpful and witty guide to the assassins in the program provides essential details.) But this central meeting place is timeless –the characters wander in and out of each others' thoughts. Each one gets a scene about their own pivotal moments. For most of the play, there is a clear separation between the song and dance numbers that happen in the “no time” context, and the more realistic scenes from the lives of each individual. The play comes to a more surrealistic close when the actor who plays the folksy “Balladeer”,who has commented on the action throughout the play, is transformed on stage into yet another potential assassin and is tempted, cajoled and convinced by all the other characters to carry out his deed.


This is a fabulous ensemble piece. In the talk back session, one actor pointed out that since they are all on stage the whole time, they become a “weird creepy team”, feeding the play the whole time. This engagement throughout the play is palpable and disturbing. The actors play their central characters, take on other small roles, and join in ominous lock-step choreography.


As Booth, Shane Carty really stood out. He has a gorgeous voice, handling with aplomb the deep notes in the score. His character describes the greatest range of motivations for killing a president, in a long, varied song, and he carried me with him the whole way – with emotions including intense anger, testy impatience, heart-felt nostalgia for his country the way he remembered it before the Civil War, and arrogant pride. For the rest of the play, he was frightening as a kind of yetzer hara for the would-be killers who follow him, tempting them to solve their problems with a gun.


As Leon Czolgosz, Alex Fiddes was a romantic, tender, gentle presence on stage, showing his love for Whitney Ross-Barris' clear-eyed Emma Goldman, and his passion for the common man.


Melody A. Johnson played Sara Jane Moore as a quirky, androgynous-looking, ditzy comedy character, a foil for the intense, fiery Squeaky Fromme played by Janet Porter. (Both women took aim at Gerald Ford.) They share a great scene as they teach themselves to shoot, feeling more and more strength and then collapsing into fits of girlish giggles. As Moore, Johnson sang comically off-key, which it made it all the more chilling when she contributed powerfully to ensemble songs.



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