Went to see Artistic Difference's "Assassins" at the Old Eagle Theater in Old Sacramento.
Fine performances throughout, particularly the duos:
- Leon Czolgosz (Joshua James) and Emma Goldman (Joelle Wirth) - very strong, affecting performances;
- "Squeaky" Lynette Fromme (Tygar Hicks) and Sara Jane Moore (Martha Omiyo Kight) - loopy fun!.
Plus extended monologues by:
- Sam Byck (Michael McElroy) - rage, personified,
- John Wilkes Booth (Craig Howard) - a cracked visionary,
- Charles Guiteau (Chuck Cooner) - ambition, personified.
The biggest flaw of the show "Assassins", as it is written by Sondheim and Weidman, is that Lee Harvey Oswald is treated as something of a malleable pawn. Reading the book "Case Closed" by Gerald Posner, the last word on why Oswald was the single shooter, it's clear that Oswald was the most misunderestimated of assassins. He had spent the fall of 1963 trying to kill right-wing Air Force General Walker, even getting a shot off, and changed his target to Kennedy only that fateful morning, when he read the newspaper and realized Kennedy would pass right by his workplace. Oswald was very determined and resourceful and astonishingly stingy, but not malleable.
This show, as good as it is, could do with a rewrite - keep some stuff and toss out the rest. After all, let's reintroduce long-forgotten presidential assassin wannabes, Richard Lawrence and John Schrank! They tried - they failed! And what about the Puerto Rican nationalists? Surely they can't be consigned to history's wastebin so easily? Maybe we need Assassins II.....
The production's timing seemed a bit crass - just before the 2008 election - but the timing apparently wasn't a promotional gambit but just due to rehearsal schedules and efforts to get rights. Everyone loves the music to this show anyway and would love to do it anytime, election or not.
American assassins, diverse in many ways, seem united by a common trait - delusional thinking.
I come from a generation particularly scarred by assassinations. I remember returning from lunchtime recess to Mrs. James' class in second grade as she tearfully announced JFK's death. When I went home, I thought to inform my mother - but she already knew. Wow, this was bigger than I thought! The story became far too complicated for a 7-year-old to follow when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot - who was this Jack Ruby? - but by now I was hooked. I watched every second of the funeral of JFK on TV, and it took hours - at least three hours from start to end.
My parents watched me watch the TV and they were - concerned.
1968 was an epic, history-making year, in part, because of MLK's and RFK's assassination.
In June 1968, as an 11-year-old, I noted how RFK's wound wasn't as dire as JFK's - with luck, potentially survivable. I spent many hours in June and July assembling models of skulls using dominoes, and laying out nerve pathways in the brain using string. Then, I fired marbles into the domino stockades, and used an electric train transformer as a diagnostic device to try and judge whether simple paralysis resulted from the wounds, or debilitating speech defects, or whether the damage was deeper than that, and perhaps not survivable at all.
Man, 1968 was a sick year.
In high school, of course, my friends and I spent much time learning and reciting assassination trivia.
In 1976, I went to a dollar cinema at the Gothic Theater in Denver, CO, and saw a double-bill: ("Shampoo" with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn - not very memorable) and the electrifying assassination classic, "Taxi Driver", with Robert De Niro as the unforgettable Travis Bickle, and Jodie Foster as his femme fatale, Iris.
I was stunned in 1981, watching the coverage of Reagan's assassination attempt while sitting in the basement of the Student Union at University of Arizona in Tucson, to learn how John Hinckley became Travis Bickle. With Stephen Sondheim's musical "Assassins", it's art imitating life imitating art imitating life - this is more confusing than Jack Ruby's emotional state!
And speaking of Jack Ruby, in 1993, I attended a lecture at the Unitarian Church here in Sacramento, where Dr. Walter Bromberg, then in his 90's (his daughter was in my ballet class), and Jack Ruby's court-appointed psychologist, discussed Ruby's state-of-mind. Apparently Ruby was very emotional - he didn't plan things out. He carried a gun into the Dallas Police HQ that fateful day because he carried a pistol wherever he went, not from any pre-meditated intention to kill Oswald. Jack Ruby was just that kind of guy.
On the way home tonight, I will detour down L Street and pass by Sacramento's Capitol Park, where Squeaky Lynette Fromme, who had spent the summer of 1975 stalking the alleys of Sacramento and dumpster diving for food, decided to meet Gerald Ford, and discuss saving the redwoods.