Political disillusionment is expressed in many ways, from public protests to spending hard-earned dollars at choice partisan businesses. In extreme instances of angst, individuals act against social norms to make a more permanent impact.
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s timely Assassins production explores the psychology that fuels attempted and successful murders of U.S. presidents. The critically acclaimed musical brings together notorious figures John Wilkes Booth, John Hinckley Jr., Lee Harvey Oswald, Sara Jane Moore, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and others, ultimately calling for audience introspection.
“We hope those who come out to see Assassins think more critically about the conditions creating these attempted assassins and the consequences of a historical cycle of violence,” said director Michael Baron.
Starting Wednesday, Feb. 8 and running through Feb. 26, with music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, the production earned polarized reviews in 1990 when it first opened off-Broadway.
“Some people considered Assassins inappropriate, but others thought it was a work of genius,” Baron said. “Twenty-seven years later … it holds more significance amid the difficult 2017 presidential race.”
Assassins originally placed its murderous characters in a carnival game setting rife with illusions and spectacle. For a 2017 update, Baron moved them to a stale, bureaucratic office.
“They’ll be together in a government-type waiting room, which is a place where most of us have experienced frustration at things we can’t control,” he said.
Actors Lyn Cramer, Mateja Govich, Mark Jammal, Matthew Alvin Brown, Natalya Ferch and others inhabit the roles of some of history’s political assassins. In preparing for their roles, Baron focused on conveying each character’s internal and external realities.
“We’re taking our actors to a gun range,” he said. “It’s a very intense experience, just like the psychological experience of the historical characters we’re portraying.”
Each character in the waiting room displays irritation at their undesirable situation. As the story progresses, deep-seated strains of mental illness and violence emerge, rendering them dangerous yet ostracized.
“The play ultimately conveys how lonely, disenfranchised individuals could be moved to plan such public displays of violence,” he said.
Assassins was one of the first productions of its kind to contemporize figures from the past.
Following each performance, Baron and Lyric staff host informal audience discussions and further explore the production’s meaning.
“Discussing the show’s message and themes allows everyone to process what they just saw and offer their own generational perspective on the issue of gun violence,” Baron said.
Such a public forum also propels the art world into a new presidential administration.
“I had no idea who was going to win the election when we planned to show Assassins,” Baron said. “This show highlights the importance of the presidency of the United States and how serious a role that is for so many people. In the end, it’s a very dangerous job.”
For tickets and showtimes, visit lyrictheatreokc.com.
Wednesday, Feb. 8 through Feb. 26
Lyric at the Plaza
1727 NW 16th St.
Print Headline: Killing time, Assassins throws notorious figures in a room together and sets their turmoil to music.