Reviewed by Sarah Roche
I attended S.R.O. Productions III’s April 9 opening night performance of “Assassins.” It was my first time at the Firehouse Stage of the Goodwill Theatre in Johnson City. The venue goes above and beyond to make patrons comfortable with a police officer assisting in parking and well-cushioned chairs. The general seating set-up did leave me and the person next to me straining to see what was happening as characters sat on the stage, but a different layout could easily solve that issue. I would recommend getting to this theater at least a half-hour before the scheduled show time in order to have your pick of seating.
“Assassins” is a Sondheim/Weidman musical that first opened off-Broadway in 1990, then won five Tony Awards with its 2004 Broadway performance. The musical’s explores the backgrounds of and relationships between the men and women who have attempted to or succeeded in assassinating a United States president. The subject matter is intense. At times the musical leans towards humorous and places the characters in Limbo, a fictional place where they interact and influence each other. At other times it is a history lesson, exploring the biography of the assassins in question with what little information is available.
John Wilkes Booth, played by Scott Fisher in S.R.O.’s production, is the pioneer and leader of the group of assassins. The audience is led through the musical by the Balladeer, in this case played wonderfully by Daniel Reilly, who alerts the audience to the assassins’ motives and the outcomes of their actions. Brendan Curtin played the role of Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President Garfield. His performance was also exemplary, especially during “The Ballad of Guiteau.” Margaret Lyon Smith filled the role of Sara Jane Moore splendidly, convincing the audience of her character’s flightiness. Megan Germond seemed to play the role of love-struck Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme with ease. Overall, the cast did a beautiful job with this performance.
I was very excited to see that the music would be played live with Vicky Gordon on piano, Greg SantaCrose on keyboard, Robin Warner on drums and Christine Cumming and Melanie Valencia on woodwinds. Unfortunately, the music did overpower the voices of the actors throughout the opening scenes. This was mostly remedied by “Unworthy of Your Love,” and the combo seemed to have the situation under control by the final scene. I’m sure this was just a case of opening night nerves, and I am confident that further performances will allow the audience to clearly hear the actors.
The audience was very receptive to this opening night performance, offering applause at the end of each scene. The audience as a whole jumped during the first firing of the assassins’ guns, but then became comfortable with the shots. This play is a commentary on society and democracy and those that take the lives of president’s in their hands. It is at times funny and at other times poignant. I left having learned more about history and feeling very sorry for the assassins. I was also a bit conflicted; had I just laughed at Samuel Byck’s drunken rants? I definitely recommend it for those that are looking for theater that makes you think and analyze your own perspectives. I enjoy leaving a play with a different perspective and some food for thought, so this was a win for me.