I went to see Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins tonight at the Ritz.
I have been out of the loop in the theatre community for the past few years, taking a much needed break, but there are a few theatre companies I have only overwhelmingly positive feelings about, and one of them is Theater Latté Da. I recall the first show of theirs I saw (La Bohème), and remember how amazed I was (and still am) by a small cluster of aerial musicals showing at the Southern. These memories are from years ago, and I felt compelled to make some new ones.
Also, I love Sondheim.
The last time I had been at the Ritz, I had been house managing for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, so it was a nice feeling to walk back into a familiar space. I had no idea that the company had taken over the space in an official capacity. So yes, it has indeed been a while.
It’s also been quite a while since I’ve blogged here.
And a lot has happened in my life. Life, love, career, cats – a lot of big shifts have occurred, even in these past six months or so. I’m looking for a more fulfilling position for my vocation as a librarian, I’m moving to Minneapolis, and I, for the moment at least, have two cats. I’m also practicing my own independence in ways which are strange, delightful, difficult, and I imagine worthwhile.
I’ve been out of practice in so many areas which have been important to me. Dancing, theatre, poetry, writing, and working actively with children. I’m picking up in these areas to make up for lost time.
Tonight, a brief moment to jot just a few thoughts about the performance.
There is a pre-show carnival. Oh my goodness, go participate. I was bussing from Saint Paul, so I didn’t get in very early, but it was delightful to people watch.
I remember enjoying all the work Peter Rothstein did at the Children’s Theatre Company when I was working there, and I did enjoy the direction of this show as well. I don’t have anything specific to say about it except that I could tell the stage was being used effectively. There were a few moments when the cast paraded through the aisle of the theatre, and that was interesting but I don’t know exactly what the intent was for the viewer. I did have some sort of emotional response to it, mostly at having the opportunity to hear individual voices as they passed by in an ensemble, but I can’t tell if that was enough to merit the choice.
I was familiar with a couple of actors in the show, but not very well. Most recently, I’ve been a fan of Tyler Michaels as part of the Bearded Men, an improv group I love to watch at Huge, where I am presently taking improv classes (another time I may write about how valuable that experience has been). I was very aware of his presence in the audience throughout the show, which was also obviously a directorial choice, and I liked that very much. In these moments, he was playing the Balladeer, and it helped give him context to put him in the crowd of which I was part. That character is not an assassin, but someone who interprets their stories and history, which is what we all were doing from our seats.
The performances were very good overall, with a few standouts: Tyler Michaels’ Lee Harvey Oswald, Benjamin Dutcher’s Charles Guiteau, and James Detmar’s Samuel Byck. No-one was lacking, and most of the actors had pretty decent singing voices. Those without were either without as a character choice (I am not familiar with this musical and don’t know how the characters have been played previously in other runs), or made up for any lack with their acting.
Assassins was first performed in 1990. Before the show started tonight, I made a comment to my companion: why this show now? Was it perhaps a comment on our current political climate? Almost certainly, or else not enough thought it going into the season. Assassins asks its audience to consider what America is, and how Americans define freedom as well as power. Is it sympathetic to its characters? I’d say yes, somewhat, but that’s what makes it interesting. Assassins are people too.
This was a good production. It was solid. It was not a drop-everything must-see (and of course, those are rare creatures). Merely impressed, I found myself appreciating the production while wondering about (and making some potential criticisms of) John Weidman’s book (as opposed to Sondheim’s score, which would require more in-depth thought for me to process critically).
1990 was 26 years ago! There are things in this play which I don’t think would fly at all if it were coming out now. The female assassins (yes, I know the show is based off real people, but these are still characterizations of them, fictional versions of them) were characterized in ways that bothered me. One was primarily defined by her relationship with her lover (Charles Manson), and the other was used primarily as comic relief.
…and other minorities
Many of Assassins’ characters suffer from mental illness, as one might expect from someone who decides to kill the president (but maybe not…who knows). Although I said the musical is somewhat sympathetic to its characters (in that they are people, not just names), portrayals of mental illness in the show are very simplistic and really sort of glossed over for the most part.
I also feel that the characters who were immigrants to the U.S. had smaller roles than those who were American natives. I don’t know for sure, but it really felt like that to me, and that’s something I might not have noticed when I was younger.
My favorite part
My favorite part of the show, in terms of story, was the story of Lee Harvey Oswald. There is so much controversy over the shooting of JFK and the play used that as a jumping off point, as an opportunity for the characters to interact with each other in unexpected ways. I really enjoyed that. It took me away from the supposed “reality” of history and reminded me how what is “real” is hard to define, possibly impossible to define. (The whole production asks one to consider how history is written, whose perspective we see, beginning with Booth, but that’s nothing too new.)
Thanks for bearing with me while I try to remember how to articulate myself. One of my new and best friends has been causing me to think about communication lately, and I realized I’ve gotten rusty in many areas, and there are others where I always was rough. In all those ways and more, I want to do better, and practice isn’t the worst way to do that.