Assassins

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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The theatrical conceit is as morbid as it is comical and, ultimately, unnerving. The setting is a carnival shooting gallery (nicely evoked through David Scaglione’s scenic design and the lighting motif devised by Jesse Bosworth). With sixteen players on stage (many in multiple roles), we meet the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth — exquisitely embodied by Derek Rubaino —  and come to an understanding of the rebellious intentions that facilitate the murder of Mr. Lincoln, through the odious ode, "The Ballad Of Booth."

The show’s opening number, "Everybody’s Got the Right," also serves as the musical finale. Its lyrics include, "No job? Cupboard bare?/ One room, no one there?/ Hey, pal, don’t despair/ You wanna shoot a president?/ C’mon and shoot a president." And while this ensemble sung song doesn’t necessarily capture the economic status of all who target a U.S. President for assassination, it does suggest the fanaticism and desperation of these homicidally impassioned individuals.

Moreover, the rogues gallery of presidential assassins (and assassination aspirants) are convincingly, and often, comically characterized in this astutely crafted productions. Taryne Moyse brings the bizarre persona of Squeaky Fromme to life, while Kyra Kiener gives a humorous twist to her characterization of Sara Jane Moore (both women made separate attempts to assassinate President Gerald Ford). Hunter Ryti plays John Hinckley Jr. (the gunman behind the near fatal shooting of Ronald Reagan) in all his introverted madness. On the extroversion side of the behavioral scale we are introduced drunken Samuel Byck, who schemed to hijack an airplane in order to crash it in to the White House to kill Richard Nixon; this role is enlivened by Noah Wagner.

The entire cast is ready and steady in their performance of Assassins, including Sean McCallon as Giuseppe Zangara, who mortally wounded Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago while attempting to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt in 1933; Nick Bradford as Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated William McKinley in 1901; and Kevin Wood as Charles Guiteau, who shot and killed James Garfield in 1881.

But it is the scenario played out by Brian Pirnat as Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John Kennedy, that brings the show to its emotional peak, with images projected not only from the Dallas book depository where Oswald sat perched, but also the harrowing Zapruder film clip of the deadly 1963 incident (projection design by Sean Gray). The moral of the musical is encapsulated in the scene with Oswald: Desperate people do desperate things, but assassinations have historically caused created little more than chaos, confusion, and social disruption.

Along with the cast members mentioned above, a hardy shout-out goes to Jeseka Luna, Mark Eggert, William Ardelean, John Vann, Amanda Webb, Serena Bottiani-Henderson, and Jess Oliver for their professionalism and dedication to this production of Assassins. Costumer Donna Fritsche’s designs are also worthy of accolades.

What: Assassins Where: Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre, 5021 East Anaheim Street.  When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m.  How: Make reservations by calling (562) 494-1014 or online at lbplayhouse.org.