Baseball, apple pie, murder
Hellzapoppin'—both figuratively and literally—in this incredible staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. This play is not often produced, perhaps because the subject matter is so uncomfortable, and that’s a shame, since it’s also so thought-provoking. For, rather than the aberration that we’d like to believe, assassination is a thoroughly American tradition.
In what’s becoming a far more welcome tradition than political violence, Artistic Differences mounts an energetic and note-perfect production. While the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento is a bit rough around the edges (bench seating and a small stage, for openers), it provides the perfect venue for such a trip into the dark side of Americana. What’s more, the company makes the most of the space and the intimacy it provides.
Craig Howard’s performance as John Wilkes Booth takes the center of the show, as he steps up as a sort of onstage “coach” for the assassins that follow. His performance is intense and shot through with delusion, but far from the raving maniac we’d like to believe. Another high point—and considering that he’s heading up the gallows’ steps, perhaps unbearably comic moment—is Bob Cooner as Charles Guiteau, the man who killed President James A. Garfield. Cooner brings a delightful frenzy to Guiteau’s mania, which lends pathos to his largely forgotten role in history.
And, if humor is a bit indelicate given the circumstances of the play, it’s a good thing that the most raucous comes from Martha Omiyo Kight and Tygar Lynn Hicks as the far-from-dynamic duo who made back-to-back unsuccessful attempts on President Gerald Ford’s life in 1975. The two are hilarious, with pitch-perfect timing and just an edge of pathos beneath their giddy insanity. Hicks brings the voice of that wounded soul to the forefront in a touching duet with Joshua Brown (as John Hinckley, President Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin) called “Unworthy of Your Love.”
There’s simply too much going on in this show to miss, from the introductory announcements to the unexpectedly funny appearances of a couple of the presidents themselves. Artistic Differences has once again proved the value of a community theater group willing to take a few risks.