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Theatre Fri Jul 11 2014

Kokandy's Assassins Takes a Walk on the Darker Side

Assassins.jpgMost theater productions romanticize a fictional hero, exemplifying what it means to be a character fighting for something they believe in, finding their destined path or even leading a revolution. Dorothy finding her way home in Wizard of Oz. Harold Hill becoming the town hero in The Music Man. Tracy Turnbald taking a stand against racism in Hairspray. Rarely do we root for the villain. But Kokandy Productions revival of Sondheim's Assassins demonstrates why we should at least listen to them.

Assassins, originally produced in the early '90s, takes audiences inside the maniacal minds of well-known assassins (and several wannabes.) Real-life villains such as John Wilkes Booth (Eric Lindahl), Lee Harvey Oswald (Nathan Gardner) and Charles Guiteau (Greg Foster) use a carnival as the backdrop to tell the story of how they reached their breaking point. For some, it was out of their own despair and self-loathing, wanting to make a mark of their own on history. For others, it was about making a greater statement. But these people, while misguided, have their own stories to tell, making the overall theme of Assassins even more relevant today.

Almost every aspect of this show, from the set design to the singing, was wonderful. It's hard to come away with a negative thought (aside from the fact that it got a little too warm in the room due to the air conditioning turning on and off... so don't bring a jacket.) The space the actors had to work with was small, but it added to the experience of the show. During powerful ballads like "Something Just Broke," the actors were able to look right into the audience, which was more effective than if they were standing on an elevated stage. The set was well constructed, with two-levels so characters like Guiteau and The Balladeer (Cole Doman) could utilize the space. The light-up wheel used to indicate when an assassin hit their target was a great feature. The actors were able to use the space to tell their stories without many set changes, helping to keep the audience focused on the storyline without distraction.

Every actor onstage performed incredibly; it's an ensemble you shouldn't miss seeing. It's rare that an ensemble with such powerhouse vocals can blend so well together. The unique vocal range of the entire cast made for a pleasant production throughout, with every voice bringing something to the show. Samuel Byck's (Jason Richards) storyline was particularly chilling, as he recorded his testimony of how he lost everything, his only comfort found at the bottom of a beer can. While Leon Czolgosz's (Patrick Byrnes) struggle for acceptance from society, as well as from Emma Goldman, was heart-wrenching. An enjoyable element was the moments of comic relief, particularly from Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Allison Hendix) and Sara Jane Moore (Neala Barron), aka the worst assassins ever. The pairing made for lighter moments throughout the production, especially when Moore brought her dog to the assassination because you aren't supposed to do that? (Who knew?)

But the show serves a bigger purpose than just to entertain. It's about more than making the audience laugh or cry. It's about making the audience think. Each of these "villains" reached their breaking point because they lost their job, or loved ones or felt utterly alone. Their stories are important to listen to, especially now. School shootings seem to happen on a weekly basis. Eighty-two people were shot in Chicago over the July 4 weekend. The mall shootings in Kenya in the spring. The list goes on and on. Real life people, not villains created in a storybook, committed these crimes. Part of understanding why these events happen, is understanding the person committing the crime. Really getting into their heads. Assassins is the show you didn't know you needed to see until you walk out feeling like you've just gotten a glimpse into world you hadn't considered before. Which is all the characters wanted in the first place.

The show is a must-see -- but you only have two weekends left. Assassins runs through July 20 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $38, available at the Theater Wit box office, as well as online.

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NSB / July 12, 2014 1:39 PM

Nice review. It makes me want to see the play, the true test of a good review.

NSB / July 12, 2014 1:39 PM

Nice review. It makes me want to see the play, the true test of a good review.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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