Tucson, Newton, Charleston. That these cities leave a bad taste in your mouth for any other reason than their disgusting namesake food stuffs 1 2 3 is a testament to the hard work, discipline, and sacrifice required to attain the American Dream.
As Manifest Destiny-ers of life who want our share of the apple pie and more, Americans must barrel through many obstacles. Obstacles include, but are not limited to: ethnic minorities, immigrants, women, anyone who challenges the gender binary and, oh … I don’t know, liberals?
Me personally, I’d wager that immigrants 4 are the reason my old college friends earn more than me, and why Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn refuse to answer my Twitter DMs.
The characters of Assassins – Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s macabre Tony Award-winning musical comedy – are putting their money, in addition to their shortcomings and failures, on the men of the Oval Office. And since we’re Americans not Americants, inevitably, this leads to violence.
“Our country was built on violence … [and] every other week we’re faced with some sort of horrific event, Americans enacting violence on other Americans,” explains Rachel Landon, director of Standing Room Only Productions’ staging of Assassins. “In this particular case [Assassins], it’s individuals enacting violence on the president.”
Assassins tells its story from the perspective of John Wilkes Booth, Harvey Lee Oswald and several other presidential assassins – the “wackos” and “lone gunmen” of days yore. It’s an uncomfortable vantage point, but Landon was fascinated by it from the start. As a teen, she came across the original cast recording (in a Half Price Books of all places). “Even as a young person I thought, ‘What an amazing concept for a play.’” Ever since, she has dreamed of staging the play. “I would listen to the sound track and have a very clear vision in my head.”
Landon still maintains that clarity and directorial flexibility. “I tend to be a more organic director. I do like to see what the actors do on stage naturally, but I also like to form these beautiful stage pictures if I can, so [the struggle has] been trying to fit that organic mode of directing with creating an organized stage picture. And that’s what the show is – a mixture of chaos and order.”
Chaos and order dancing cheek to cheek. It is this contrariness that makes Assassins such a valuable piece of theater. It defies the popular notion that musicals are the theatrical equivalent of a Sam’s Club sheetcake – sweet and pleasing to the senses, but empty calories too easily digested and burned through to be nourishment. “Musical theater can be political commentary just like straight theater can,” Landon contends. “It can still be satire. It can still hold a mirror up to human nature.” Assassins is a steak, prime-cut, medium rare and with a pool of melted butter on the side.
Like 2005 Kanye West, the musical asks the tough questions – why do the Oswalds and Booths exist? For that matter, why do the Roofs and Lanzas exist? “When someone commits an act of violence, we always want to know why. This play attempts to answer that question with humour and social commentary,” says Landon. She admits, however, that the play will not have all the answers. “At the end of the show, we don’t feel satisfied for the same reason that every time we find some murderer’s manifesto online we’re frustrated. We’re angry we’re left feeling emptier than we were before.” Landon laughs before admitting, “It’s not satisfying.”
For those who think Landon’s rueful laugh is a harbinger of bad things to come or worry that the show will make for an emotionally expensive trip to the theatre, you are correct. But for Landon, that’s the point. “Theater should challenge the audience. I think that has been the intention of theater from the very beginning …What a sad world we’d live in without any entertainment that challenges us or offends us.”
Still, lest we forget, Assassins is a comedy. “Not every scene is going to make you ponder your existence,” Landon says with a purer laugh this time. “It’s the perfect mixture for those who like to be challenged and entertained.”
Assassins opens July 10 and runs through August 1 at Obsidian Theatre, 3522 White Oak Drive, Houston, TX. To purchase tickets, please visit http://www.sro‐productions.com or call 713‐300‐2358 for more information.
Arizona Tea is so disgusting that it’s rumored to have urine in the recipe. It literally tastes like piss. ↩