Theater continues busting out all over Boston and beyond– here’s my take on what I’ve seen lately:
ASSASSINS: Lyric Stage has kicked off its season with a first-rate production of this lesser-known Stephen Sondheim musical, book by John Weidman, about 9 real-life assassins or wanna be’s who each tried to or succeeded in killing a U.S. President–from Booth who shot Lincoln, Hinckley who tried to kill Reagan, Guiteau who shot Garfield, Czolgosz who shot McKinley, to Lee Harvey Oswald who shot Kennedy.
As our country simmers with anger, the media fans the flames, and guns remain in the hands of just about anyone who wants them, the subject of this musical is prescient, alarming, and insightful. All of these assassins– successful or not– acted from an outsized sense of injustice or disillusionment with the American Dream and chose to assuage their outrage by killing the most powerful person in the country. Each acted individually and with a gun.
As in Sweeney Todd, Sondheim’s penchant for the darker themed musicals –murder resulting from a sense of injustice imagined or real –is here characterized as a distinctly American impulse linked to individualism and rebellion as part of our national character, in a country where ordinary people have the means and freedom to act. While ASSASSINS has never been a fave of mine with its oddly unmemorable score lacking the dissonances which usually make Sondheim’s melodies haunt, this production nevertheless won me over. It features a top notch ensemble, great vocals, clever staging, and tonal continuity from the tragic to the tragically absurd, all smartly directed by Producing Artistic Director Courtney O’Connor. The last scene gave me chills. I recommend the Lyric’s ASSASSINS onstage through October 15!
I also think DIASPORA is worth seeing at NEW REP THEATRE and on the same set as New Rep’s wonderful production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” It’s a world premiere by Phaedra Michelle Scott directed by Pascale Florestal and interweaves multiple stories, two eras, and several generations over time, which intersect at magical moments in the play around the seminal issues of the day: race, sexuality, legacy, and identity. The work is ambitious and mostly succeeds. We have to get over the some of the too-pat, too-coincidental action (that diary!) and be patient through some labored expository dialogue.
But these sprawling themes gel not least because of Florestal’s tight direction, skillful navigation of tone– from comedic to dramatic to mysterious–and this charismatic cast: Lorraine Victoria Kanyike as Sunny, grounded– but excavating her family history for an historical memoir while trying to “mother” her late sister’s rebellious niece Janae. Serenity S’rae is funny and impulsive in the part.
In another era the elegant Valyn Lyric Turner is the earnest Dottie, in love with ardent, idealistic Thomas who is white, played by Jon Vellante. They’re deeply in love and Thomas is pushing them toward a precipice of possibilities if they openly declare themselves an interracial couple in 1952. Sunny and Janae live with big-hearted Patrick who is gay played by Sean Patrick Gibbons as an expansive personality, crushing on the more compact and cerebral John, a Korean scientist played by Jae Woo who will eventually cut loose as the play crests to a delightfully buoyant conclusion! Magic happens throughout and carried me out of the theater. At New Rep Theatre through October 15!
Stay tuned- -more to come soon!