Special to 1812Blockhouse

When it opens at the Ren’s new black box space, Theatre 166 on October 8, Stephen Sondheim’s controversial musical, Assassins, is likely to shock, disturb or even terrify its audiences.

This unusual piece about the nine assassins or would-be assassins, will certainly live on in one’s memory long after the curtain has come down.

The 90-minute performance profiles John Wilkes Booth, (who shot Lincoln), Charles Guiteau, (who killed James Garfield), Leon Czolgsoz, (William McKinley’s killer), Lee Harvey Oswald, (Kennedy’s assassin), as well as forgotten figures who didn’t succeed in their missions, such as Sarah Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, (Gerald Ford), John Hinkley, (Reagan), Giuseppe Zangara, (FDR), and Sam Byck, (Richard Nixon.)  

Borrowing on musical themes from America’s past, (ragtime, patriotic marches, folk ballads), this one-act “revue-sical” tells the story of the American Dream gone wrong and culminates with its most harrowing scene, as John Wilkes Booth and the other assassins visit Lee Harvey Oswald just moments before he fires his rifle at John Kennedy from the Texas School Book depository. The overriding theme of Assassins is summed up in the opening (and closing) number, “Everybody’s Got the Right to be Happy”, which analyzes what can happen when the government is blamed for standing in the way of a disaffected citizen’s pursuit of happiness.

Director Michael Thomas has been fascinated with the piece since he first saw it off-Broadway in 1991. “It’s an ingenious piece that delves into the darkest corners of American history. It doesn’t ask you to have sympathy for the murderers, and it doesn’t attempt to defend their behavior. It simply and effectively provides its audience with each of the killer’s backstory – often disturbing and occasionally comical.” Thomas adds, “As with all of Sondheim’s work, he doesn’t provide his audiences with mindless, frothy entertainment – but instead challenges you to think, to listen, and more often than not, delivers a punch to the gut. This is especially true with Assassins. Sondheim cracks open the American psychosis that has become entangled with our national religion, celebrity.”

“If history always seems to be bumping into “Assassins,” it’s probably because the dark cultural currents that give rise to John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and their copycat kind are continually being replenished in a nation that enjoys dividing its citizens into winners and losers,” says Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times.

In a recent interview, Sondheim spoke about the show, arguably his most controversial piece to date and certainly his most political. “The show dares its audience to see our country and assess our national myths through the eyes of our villains instead of our heroes. How could one inconsequential angry little man cause such universal grief and anguish? More important, why would he? That’s what ‘Assassins’ is about.” Indeed, besides “humanizing” Sondheim and book writer dare to suggest that assassins, like everybody else, are in pursuit of the American dream, however fanatical or delusional. The legendary composer/lyricist adds, “Everybody’s got a right to their dream, however people sometimes confuse the right to happiness with the right to the pursuit of happiness.”

Assassins will premiere at Theatre 166, 166 Park Avenue West in Mansfield, Ohio, on October 8th, 2021 at 8pm with additional performances Oct 9th, 15th and 16th at 8PM and Oct 10th and 17th at 2:30PM. Directed by Renaissance Artist Director, Michael Thomas, with musical direction by Lori Turner, Assassins features a surrealistic set by local artist and frequent Renaissance designer, Jason Kaufman, technical direction and sound design by Aaron Nicolas, lighting design by Nik Demers, original choreography by Caroline Grace Williams, and period costumes created by Linda Turske. The cast includes local favorites Ryan Shreve as John Wilkes Booth, Scott Smith as Giuseppe Zangara, Beau Roberts as Sam Byke, Jacob Poiner as John Hinkley, Lori Turner as Emma Goldman, Joe Trolian as William McKinley, George Swarn as David Herold, with Caroline Grace Williams, Leah Gesouras, Christopher Hartman and Zakari Ramos. Other guest actors, from all over Ohio, include Jacob Sustersic as Leon Czolgosz, Emily Bare as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Stephanie Hayslip as Sarah Jane Moore, Niko Carter as the Proprietor and Antonio Brown as the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald. Director Thomas makes a cameo appearance in the role of Garfield assassin, Charles Guiteau.

Due to the nature of the space, capacity at Theatre 166 is limited 100 seats. If you plan to attend, you’ll want to reserve your tickets in advance. For tickets to Assassins at Theatre 166, visit: https://bit.ly/AssassinsPR

The Renaissance Theatre is a performing arts theater located at 138 Park Avenue West, Mansfield, Ohio. Looking for Things to Do in Mansfield? Visit Renaissance Theatre’s website at rentickets.org to check out their other great events or contact [email protected] for events, tours, arts, culture and more. For behind-the-scenes videos and more visit the Renaissance Theatre’s YouTube Channel.

Source, Photo: Renaissance Performing Arts Association

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