A unique perspective on American assassins
By Nicole Calacal
The American Dream is a concept which in definition varies from person to person. Some people attempt to obtain this dream by any means necessary – even if they have to resort to violence.
The musical “Assassins” is based on a book by John Weidman and features music by Stephen Sondheim. It tells the story of nine people who have assassinated or attempted to assassinate presidents of the U.S. The show involves the assassins interacting with each other to provide a unique narrative into the lives of each character, bonded by their goal of achieving the American Dream.
Music director Louis Goldberg said, “The show offers the audience a historical impossibility: nine infamous killers or would-be killers from — for the most part — different points in history, breaking down the barrier of time by existing and interacting in the same space. It allows for the crossing of eras and for the audience to find parallels and similarities in these people who realistically are only connected by a similar passion and the same motivation: to be remembered. To create this false reality, I would say, has been the hardest but also the most fascinating part of the process.”
“It’s a provocative play that incorporates humor and tragedy to keep the audience engaged,” sophomore musical theater major Dylan Erdelyi said. “It’s a theatrical experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling, creepy, hilarious and tragic all wrapped up into an hour and a half of action. It’s not fluff – it’s a really important story that needs to be heard in 2019.”
Erdelyi plays John Hinckley, the attempted assassin of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
While America typically only gets to see one aspect of notorious criminals, “Assassins” shows the characters’ perspectives and reveals the motivations behind their violent actions.
Senior musical theater major Lindsay Andrews plays Sara Jane Moore, the attempted assassin of former U.S. President Gerald Ford. She explained that working on the production has opened her eyes to the perspectives of these featured assassins.
“What I have found while working on this show is that these people truly believed that what they did was right for the sake of the country,” she said. “To the rest of America, these people are immediately painted as villains, which may be true, but they also deserve to have their stories heard. If students come see this show, it may get them thinking about other sides of stories they already know and may compel them to ask new questions.”
Andrews said that the biggest challenge of playing Moore was that it was difficult to remain impartial since Moore did not believe what she did was wrong, but when she got into the role, it allowed her to see the events from a new point of view. Erdelyi faced a similar problem with his role.
“Most ‘evil’ people have been hurt or misunderstood. It’s been a challenge to understand that these criminals are not so unlike you and me,” Erdelyi said.
The U.S. is viewed by most as the “Land of Opportunity,” where people come in search of a better life – whether to escape a war-torn country or to provide better education and job opportunities for their children – which is one of the reasons why “Assassins” had resonated with audience members.
“We live in a country that prides itself on a self-proclaimed ‘dream,’ built on idealistic promises and unrealistic expectations. ‘Assassins’ is what happens when the promised land does not deliver,” Goldberg said. “It is a piece that forces you to examine the truths of the past, present and seemingly the future – that violence is still in fact heralded as one of the most effective ways to exact the change you want. This piece confronts you with a choice early on: ‘tell them till they listen.’ Imagine what could occur if we all took a moment to listen to the truths of history that may upset us. Perhaps it could influence our future.”
“Assassins” premieres at the Yvonne Theater on Feb. 27 with its preview performance at 7:30 p.m., followed by Feb. 28 and March 1, both starting at 7:30 p.m. Additional showings are March 2 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m.
Published in the 2/20/19 edition.