“Assassins” by Stephen Sondheim at ACT Theatre

“Everyone’s got a right to their dreams” state the opening and final numbers of Stephen Sondheim’s and John Weidman’s “Assassins.” That’s a seemingly reasonable concept, but, as this show makes undeniably clear, it’s not very realistic in a society with more than its fair share of deluded, demented and dissatisfied citizens. The focus in this play is on those unbalanced Americans whose uncontrolled anger caused them to shoot at an American President. From Lincoln to Reagan, six presidents have been targeted, four killed. The life of every president after Lyndon Johnson has been threatened.

Sondheim, in good form here, aligns his music with the timeframe of each of his assassins and would-be assassins, beginning with John Wilkes Booth, who here is played in commanding fashion by Louis Hobson. Hobson makes Booth both a sympathetic and a frightful man. Booth’s an impassioned southerner seeking revenge and retribution for the havoc wrecked on his beloved south. In his deluded mind Lincoln is the source of that evil and deserves to be killed.

Booth returns near the end of the musical. There in the Texas School Book Depository he accosts the suicidal Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald’s life has been a failure. He thinks he has nothing to live for. Booth convinces him that immortality could be his. If, instead of wasting his bullets on himself, he killed the President, his name would go down in history. The scene where this negotiation takes place is one of the play’s strongest.

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KendraKassebaum_as_Sara_Jane_Moore_and_Laura_Griffith_as_Lynette_Squeaky Fromme Photo by Mark Kitaoka

Laura Griffith as Squeaky Fromme, the Charles Manson acolyte, flits around the stage like a stoned-out nymph with a distorted brain. Kendra Kassebaum as Sara Jane Moore is equally effective as a mentally impaired product of the ’60s. They both attempted to kill Gerald Ford and did it within days of each other. They are especially good within a truly fine cast.

In America, of course, “everyone’s got a right to their dreams,” and along with it, evidently, is the right to have a gun. It would be hard to leave this performance without having serious reservations about that second right.

This coproduction with The Fifth Avenue Theatre is being performed at ACT, through May 8, 200 Union St. Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

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