We had our preview of Assassins last night and it went very well -- a few small rough patches here and there, but nothing that the audience noticed, I don't think... It really has turned out to be a great production.
I realized watching it last night that this is not an easy show to watch. It's so easy to care about these characters, to get emotionally involved with them, but part of the brain doesn't want to care about these people. Czolgosz is such a sad, beaten man, and every reason he has for killing McKinley is true -- oppression and exploitation of workers, gross economic inequality, all the things Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania are experiencing today. And though he's right about his politics, it can't justify his act of murder. So what do you do with that? The same is true of Booth and Byck -- both of them describe American politics with painful accuracy, but you just can't take that last step with them and accept murder as a reasonable response to injustices.
I was talking to Amy (who plays Squeaky Fromme) last week and I was talking about our previous productions of Assassins in 1994 and 1998. I told her that, for me, the big difference between this production and our last one is subtle but powerful -- in 1998, we had a cast full of first-rate musical theatre performers, but this time, we have a cast full of first-rate actors. And that makes it different. This time the show is funnier, sadder, more aggressive, more moving, more unsettling. The emotions are deeper, truer, more complicated. As the New Line website says, we don't want our audience necessarily to feel good; we want them to feel deeply.
I think this time it's easier to see ourselves in these characters, and that makes it harder to watch...
This is truly one of the best pieces of writing I've ever worked on, and what it has to say about us and our country is more important now than ever before. It seems not a week goes by anymore without a shooting somewhere in America. We have to do something about that.
And maybe Assassins is one small way to start that conversation.
Long Live the Musical!