"Let me prove worthy of you love. Tell me how I can earn your love, set me free. How can I turn your love to me?" These are some of the most haunting lyrics in Stephen Sondheim's ASSASSINS, now in production in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. These lyrics are sung by John Hinckley, Jr. with Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in their duet of "Unworthy of Your Love".
The World of Assassins in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's 2012/13 Quadracci Powerhouse production of Assassins. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
ASSASSINS is a satire that follows the story the most infamous presidential assassins (or attempted assassins) in the history of the United States. It is presented along the lines of a carnival game, where each assassin "wins" if they successfully kill a president. The stories are tied together by the Proprietor who gives the characters their weapons early on in the carnival and the Balladeer who helps to tell the stories of these characters. To me, most of the characters in ASSASSINS are trying to prove their worthiness to someone – or anyone.
Cast of Assassins in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's 2012/13 Quadracci Powerhouse production of Assassins. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
John Wilkes Booth (played with bravado by the exceptionally talented Adam Monley) is trying to prove his worth to the nation by "saving it" from Lincoln. Lee Harvey Oswald (portrayed by Chris Peluso [who also plays the Balladeer] whose emotive performance was at times both frightening and exciting) tries to prove his worth to his wife Marina. Hinckley (played with a subtle and gentle shyness by Evan Harrington) wants to prove his and devotion to actress Jodie Foster. Similarly, Fromme (portrayed with great intensity and energy by the talented and beautiful Sarah Litzsinger) wants Charles Manson to know the extent of her love and dedication to him and "the cause". In a stand out performance as Sara Jane Moore, a barely recognizable Caroline O'Connor seems to be seeking her own acceptance and self-worth. O'Connor brings so much physical and emotional depth to the character that it makes the audience deny any preconceptions they have towards Moore.
Sarah Litzsinger as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme with Caroline O'Connor as Sara Jane Moore in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's 2012/13 Quadracci Powerhouse production Assassins. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The Rep's set design by Todd Edward Ivins is extraordinary and is almost a character in and of itself in this production. On each side of the stage are posters of the presidents that were victimized by the main characters. In the center, is a giant revolving stage, on which much of the action takes place. The stage changes throughout the show to denote different time periods and locations. Subtleties in the lighting, audio, and stage lend quite a bit to the production and help the story come alive.
Director Mark Clements has assembled a freakishly beautiful, haunting, and prophetic performance of ASSASSINS. The cast is extremely talented. The singing and music are fantastic. The entertaining production is at times frightening, hilarious, and emotionally disturbing. Given the election season, many jokes seem to be even more applicable, especially during a discussion of the political parties and what U.S. citizens should believe is true. This performance of ASSASSINS DOES prove itself worthy of the audience's love.