What follows is not a review. This is one of my “I have wonderful, talented, fantastic theatre friends and I am proud of the show they just did” blog entries.
In this case, I just got back from closing night of Farmington Players’ production of Sondheim’s Assassins. If you aren’t familiar with the show, in essence it is a musical revue of sorts with a meta thematic narrative tying together the experiences and motivations of the most notorious presidential assassins in American history. Fun night at the theatre, eh?Well, morbid as it may make me sound, it actually is. Michael Smith with the assistance of Margaret Gilkes does a fabulous job directing this spiky material with stellar musical support from Rachael Rose. Kristi Schwartz also adds the perfect light touch to some comic choreography. The show is an allegorical treatise examining the underdogs in our society and the effect that perceived/real persecution, disparity, and frustration can have on the most fragile of psyches. Assassins offers prescient analysis of our Instagram-happy, “Real Housewives of … Wherever” world in which fame is its own reward, regardless of the ugly costs. Sondheim also anticipates our ongoing collective debate about gun culture, asserting quite plainly that firearms and their immediate availability are a uniquely horrifying American tradition.
The cast, as I’ve indicated, is populated by some of my favorite theatre friends. Barbara Bruno (who deserves an extra shout-out for wringing every bit of comic gold from her role as “Sarah Jane Moore”), Bob Cox, Daniel Crosby, Barry Cutler, David Galido, Keith Janoch, Nick Rapson, Michael Soave, Alex Spittle, Keith Firstenberg, and Jason Wilhoite all do spectacular work in the principal roles, nailing the rich content of not only the score but the incisively written monologues. The ensemble (Erik Elwell, Jayne Firstenberg, Jim Moll, Martin Rinke, Pat Rodgers, and Patrick Wehner) all have the tough task of setting the atmosphere of any given historic era, and they accomplish it with aplomb.This is not an easy show and it can quickly slide into creepy, clammy, artsy-fartsy territory without a strong cast and directorial vision, but this production deftly avoids that trap. Like another Sondheim classic Company, Assassins revels in its lack of any discernible plot and in playing mind-bending, dream-like tricks with time and place.
The Farmington Players’ production grounds the material with heart and humor, beautiful singing, sharp sound and lighting design, atmospherically minimal set pieces, and great character work. I’m sorry to say this is closing night and if you didn’t get to see it, you missed out on a wonderful production.
As the main characters espouse in what is arguably the best song from the score, “everybody has the right to be happy.” And I certainly was tonight.
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.