BWW Review: Brilliant ASSASSINS at Theater Latte Da

BWW Review: Brilliant ASSASSINS at Theater Latte Da

It's hard to imagine a better production of the Sondheim/Weidman dissection of the perpetrators of violence toward US presidents than the ASSASSINS that has just opened in Minneapolis at Theater Latte Da. Running a brisk 100 minutes without intermission, it is staged, sung, and performed with terrific assurance and brio.

The cast, which includes both Equity and non-Equity actors, does not have a weak link. Accomplished singers who can deliver the Sondheim score (backed by an onstage ensemble, tucked into the up left corner of the set), each actor also physicalizes the deranged psychic landscapes of their characters with conviction. Longtime artistic director Peter Rothstein shows a masterly command of space, pace, and this difficult material. Dramaturg Elissa Adams also deserves a shout out for excellent program notes. These provide historical grounding to the events we skip through, many of which are not well known.

Inventive lighting by veteran designer Marcus Dilliard offers ever-changing looks on the terrific two level carnival set by young scenic designer Eli Sherlock. Sepia toned campaign posters of presidents who have been targeted top the set, which also features a sliding pole and a strong man game with bell--rung here, soberly, each time an assassin murders a president. Distressed and historically suggestive costumes by Alice Frederickson help create a sense of sleaze and marginality.

This play confronts the audience with a dark underside of our history, and has been criticized for aggrandizing murderers. I get that, and believe that in less assured artistic hands, ASSASSINS could be ethically questionable. Here, though, the through line seems thoroughly moral without oversimplifying some of our cultural dilemmas, such as the ready availability of guns, limited access to mental health services, and a tendency toward tribalism that excludes and demeans some individuals as outsiders, unworthy of respect.

That we are all potentially complicit in this is brought home experientially in the hour before each performance begins, when audience members can go on stage to play four carnival games, with the cast acting as barkers, and with food and drink prizes available to winners. It's wicked good fun, and blurs the false dividing lines between actor and audience, and between then and now. This is smart theater.

ASSASSINS plays in the Northeast Arts District of Minneapolis through March 18. It has my wholehearted endorsement.

Photo credit: Dan Norman

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From This Author Karen Bovard

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