Arts theater review

Everybody’s got the right to be morbid

MTG’s Assassins seamlessly blends dark comedy with somber history


Performed By MIT Musical Theatre Guild

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by John Weidman

In Kresge Little Theater

Running Sept. 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17 at 8 p.m.

Framed as a macabre carnival game, Assassins delves into the stories of men and women who attempted to assassinate presidents of the United States. From the second the curtain rose, the show expertly toed the line between tragedy and dark humor. The simply furnished set highlighted the actors’ expressions and movements, while still setting a dark undertone: the show opened with monochrome presidential portraits framed by the eerie sign “SHOOT A PREZ WIN A PRIZE.”  

In the opening number, the carnival’s proprietor, played by Rachel Nations ’16 hones in on each assassin’s weakness. She eggs them on with a bright, persuasive tone, urging that “Everybody’s got the right to be happy.”

As the show moves from assassin to assassin, the balladeer, played by Nick Stevens, a Cambridge-based professional actor, musician, and improviser, provides the glue that binds their stories together. Stevens’ character explicates each assassin’s situation in lamentative song. His passionate delivery maintains the audience’s sympathy for the assassins while simultaneously expressing deep regret for their wrongdoings.

I found my stomach in knots for the lives of the motley crew of assassins, despite knowing full well the sordid outcome for each of them. Brandon Sanchez ’18 portrays a glib and charismatic John Wilkes Booth, convinced until the end that his actions were justified. Professional actor Tyler Crosby’s pompous, delusional Charles Guiteau adds a much-needed levity, drawing smiles from the audience with his desires to be ambassador of France as well as an esteemed author. Graduate student Paul Gallagher’s serious, embittered Leon Czolgosz provides a sharp contrast to Guiteau as he contemplates the wretched plight of immigrant workers. Professional performer Meghan Jolliffe’s impassioned, impulsive portrayal of Giuseppe Zangara makes the audience wish he had chosen another path, while Cambridge-based research psychologist  Lucas Commons-Miller’s sardonic, cynical delivery of Samuel Byck’s personal and political rants yields as much mirth as it does anguish.

Professional actress and artist Kitty Drexel’s Lynette Fromme and Megan O’Leary ’16’s Sarah Jane Moore create a strange camaraderie, captivating the audience with the bizarre chemistry only a disillusioned, clumsy housewife and a teenaged follower of Charles Manson can provide. Jacob Martin ’18’s performance as the awkward, Jodie Foster-obsessed John Hinckley, Jr. is one that deeply appeals to the audience’s sympathies, making them bemoan the tormented young man’s actions.

In a clever casting choice, Stevens further binds the assassins’ stories by playing a frenetic, frightened Lee Harvey Oswald who is confronted by the ghosts of assassins future and past. Stevens’ gripping performance in this moment, as Oswald makes his life — and history — altering decision, is a highlight of the production.

Through a turmoil of emotions and song, Assassins forces the audience to regard the flawed actions and human circumstances that drive large-scale historical events. Though clarity of thought may elude the show’s characters, the Musical Theatre Guild’s production of Assassins clearly provides a thought-provoking and dynamic experience.