'How I Saved Roosevelt' in Four Seasons Theatre's Assassins
Four Seasons Theatre has opened its 10th anniversary season with Stephen Sondheim's Assassins (through Dec. 14 at Overture Center's Playhouse). The musical is dark, rich and intimate, played out on a set that resembles both a three-ring circus and the gallows. It features a macabre assortment of miscreants and losers who metamorphose into some of the most influential forces in history: presidential assassins.
Sondheim and book writer John Weidman offer little in the way of explanation for their crimes, and Assassins isn't the contemporary tell-all we've become used to. In Sondheim's tale, not every act is justified, but all are illuminated. John Wilkes Booth (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek), who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, becomes the ringleader of the show, encouraging others to act on their worst impulses and channel their rage and loneliness into murder. His converts follow.
Smith-Kotlarek's Booth is charming and commanding. He influences the cheerful and self-aggrandizing Charles Guiteau (Greg Reed), to kill James Garfield and the downtrodden anarchist Leon Czolgosz (Jordan Peterson) to shoot William McKinley. Peterson's Czolgosz draws the most empathy in the show. As a laborer earning just six cents a day making glass in a 1,200-degree oven, his scars and burns feel like America's wounds. When Emma Goldman (Sarah Streich) radicalizes him, her words feel more like a salve than a reproach.
Director Jessica Lanius does just about everything right in this show. Production staff deliver what I've come to expect from Four Seasons, a stellar experience that, if you fuzz your eyes for a moment, looks and sounds like the best of Off-Broadway.
Throughout the show, the assassins raise their guns and aim toward the audience. In this current violent climate, the effect is unsettling. Assassins has more relevance today than during its brief 1990 run. Four Season Theatre's Assassins kills.