Tricia Stiller/review: 'Assassins' a ballad of the misunderstood

Tricia Stiller/review: 'Assassins' a ballad of the misunderstood

By TRICIA STILLER

I often wonder what it would be like to be a fly on the wall at one of Stephen Sondheim's creative brainstorming sessions. The prolific octogenarian has, throughout his career, given voice to the darker side of humanity. His award-winning body of work is a beacon for survival and recovery, encouraging empathy for those who have suffered unimaginable wrongs but kept on going. Exorcising personal demons? Perhaps. And so, who else could conceive of a musical carnival that offers the perspectives of a hodgepodge of notorious headline grabbers and dare you to see them as human beings?

If I were to post a status on "Assassins," which is being performed at Krannert Center, I could only say, " It's complicated." And it is complicated. It's also intriguing and intentionally unsettling. It forces us to see the "why" behind senseless acts and those who perform them, but it softens the blow with exquisite music.

J.W. Morrissette directs this one act with precision, employing dramatic lighting, designed by Robert Perry, and taking full advantage of the flexible scenic design created by Daniela Cabrera.

Jordan Coughtry portrays John Wilkes Booth who is, in a sense, the leader of this pack of shadow dwellers. Coughtry is appropriately overly dramatic in his portrayal of the mediocre actor that took the life of our 16th president.

Ethan Miles Perry is Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who killed President William McKinley. Perry appeared as if he were in a trance at times, following his inner directive to its gruesome conclusion.

Allie Wessel and Jacklyn Ovassapian play Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, two devoted followers of Charles Manson, who attempted to end the life of President Gerald Ford. Their well-crafted scenes were at times as funny as they were disturbing.

Brad Wiedrich is appropriately awkward as John Hinckley Jr., the Jodie Foster-obsessed failure that attempted to kill Ronald Reagan, but severely injured, and permanently disabled his press secretary James Brady instead.

Alejandro Mata shines as the Santa-suit wearing Samuel Byck, a man devoted to composer Leonard Bernstein, who was on a mission to kill Richard Nixon.

Kevin Woodrow is captivating as Charles Guiteau, the man who killed President Garfield because he failed to see his unique brilliance. (He wanted to be Ambassador to France).

Yvon Streaker portrays Guiseppe Zangara, who successfully ended the life of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, through he was aiming at FDR.

Vincent Williams is the Proprietor/Carnival Barker, and Mark Tyler Miller is both the evening's balladeer and a very troubled and vulnerable Lee Harvey Oswald.

The cast is supported by a very talented ensemble, expertly costumed by Paul Kim.

Unfortunately, they were at times difficult to hear over the onstage orchestra, despite the presence of body mics.

Sondheim's compelling scores are a welcome challenge for vocalists, and these performers were giving it their all. Too bad.

This production presents the ballad of the misunderstood. They merely wanted to experience their somewhat twisted version of the American Dream. Though it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is indeed a well-executed evening of theater.

Tricia Stiller is the downtown division manager for Bloomington Community Development and is the artistic director for Bloomington's Summer Theatre Program.

If you go

What: "Assassins," with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weldman.

Venue: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday.

Tickets: Single, $25; senior, $24; student, $15; UI students and youths, $10.

Running time: Two hours, presented without intermission.