Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


Advertisement
Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Advertisement

Advertisement
Evanston Environment Board drops fossil fuels divestment, recommends updates to leaf blower ordinance
Derrick Gragg appointed as Northwestern’s vice president for athletic strategy, search for new athletic director begins
Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Honda Sport Award
District 65 School Board votes to close Dr. Bessie Rhodes School
Kathryn Hahn declares class of 2024 “worthy of celebration” in commencement address
Pro-Palestinian graduates walk out of 2024 Commencement Ceremony in solidarity with Gaza
‘Wildcats should have wild dreams:’ Nikki Okrah delivers optimistic 2024 Weinberg Convocation address
Advertisement
Perry: A little humility goes a long way

Brew, Hou, Leung, Pandey: On being scared to tweet and the pressure to market yourself as a student journalist

June 4, 2024

Haner: A love letter to the multimedia room

June 4, 2024

Derrick Gragg appointed as Northwestern’s vice president for athletic strategy, search for new athletic director begins

Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Honda Sport Award

June 13, 2024

Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Tewaaraton Award

May 30, 2024

Advertisement

Campus Kitchens fills plates and hearts

NU Declassified: Prof. Barbara Butts teaches leadership through stage management

Everything Evanston: Behind the boba in downtown Evanston

Theo Ubique ensemble makes the most of Sondheim’s imperfect ‘Assassins’

Directed+by+Daryl+D.+Brooks%2C+%E2%80%9CAssassins%E2%80%9D+runs+at+Theo+Ubique+Theatre+through+Dec.+17.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Stenholt
Directed by Daryl D. Brooks, “Assassins” runs at Theo Ubique Theatre through Dec. 17.

Few composers have achieved the same household recognition as the late Stephen Sondheim. Even the most Broadway-averse know the lyrics to “I Feel Pretty” or “America.” But his 1990 musical, “Assassins,” which chronicles the stories of nine people who attempted to kill the president of the United States, is not as widely known.

And for good reason. Though Sondheim’s witty lyricism and dexterous composition is always a joy, the script, written by John Weidman, leaves much to be desired. During spoken scenes, I found myself waiting for the next song.

The show is a thesis of sorts, examining the psychological and societal factors that lead one to assassinate a president (or at least try to). Sondheim emphasizes the inherent theatricality of this crime and uses John Wilkes Booth (played by Neala Barron), actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, as a modern origin point. The opening number, “Everybody’s Got the Right,” presents assassination as a way for desperate individuals to redeem their otherwise unremarkable lives.

While compelling, this framework is not always a perfect fit. How are the psyches of President William McKinley’s assassin Leon Czolgosz, a working class political anarchist, and President James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, who targeted the president because his application to be ambassador to France was denied, comparable?

Still, director Daryl D. Brooks’ production of the show at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, which premiered Oct. 27, feels more relevant than ever. The show’s framing of the assassins as demoralized social outcasts parallels present-day conceptions of mass shooters.

The cast made the most of Weidman’s lackluster script and brought an energetic fervor to Sondheim’s music. Mack Spotts’ and Nick Arceo’s performances were especially remarkable. Spotts portrayed Leon Czolgosz with gentle humility, easily prompting sympathy for the character’s struggles. Arceo, who played Charles Guiteau, often sparked uproarious laughter from the crowd with his tongue-in-cheek comedic style.

As always at Theo, tables on the sides of the stage made up a small portion of the audience seating, allowing for interactions with the actors during the show. Bek Lambrecht’s set design was minimalistic but by no means barren. Five versions of the American flag hung on a wooden fence. Red and white stripes covered the stage floor, with a star-studded circular wooden platform at the center. The assassins often stepped up to the platform at the moments of their killing or their own death — a wonderful utilization of the set’s centerpiece.

Though “Assassins” is not Sondheim’s best, its themes are still relevant thirty years after its Off-Broadway premiere. Even so, it’s not a musical I would recommend unless you have a love for the idiosyncrasies of American history.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jahariia

Related Stories:
Arts Alliance’s Garden Party presents ‘Into the Woods’ with handmade costumes, intimate setting in Shanley
“Baked! The Musical” is charming, but undercooked
‘This Bitter Earth’ questions whether there’s room for politics in love at Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre

More to Discover