Friday, July 25, 2008


Let me preface by saying that Assassins is one of my all-time favorite cast recordings, yet I have never seen a production I like. A favorite of community theatres and colleges, this deceptively difficult Sondheimian masterwork is often assassinated by weak orchestras, poor singing, and/or talentless acting. Company One's production at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) is no exception. This production, however, makes me lament more than usual because I feel the cast has real, untapped, and undirected talent. Unfortunately, this talent nor the depth of the work is realized in this poorly directed and poorly designed production.

Let's begin with the design. Granted, the Virginia Wimberly Theatre at the BCA is probably the most ill-conceived theatre space in the complex: a flat 3/4 round with two iron I-beams in the middle of the stage. Rather than masking these deficiencies as has been done quite effectively (Funny Thing... Forum and This is Our Youth, memorably), this design - presumably intended to evoke a carnivalesque shooting gallery - does nothing to elevate the space. The direction also fails to rise to the occasion with blocking that either panders to the lowest common musical theatre denominator or simply falls prey to the obstacles of the space. A perfect example of this are boxes poorly painted to resemble wood-thatched packing crates that crowd the space and are used with little effect. Unfortunately, the music direction also seems to be lacking with the accompaniment struggling to keep up with the actors during the first few numbers of the show.

The moments of levity in the production are provided by the unharnessed talent of the cast which ranges from the sublime to the sub par. At the former end of the gamut are Jeff Mahoney whose performance as Charles Guiteau embodies the mania inherent in his Bible-thumping-turned-assassin character. Likewise, Ed Hoopman as Czolgosz delivers not only through his accomplished acting, but with a beautiful baritone to boot. Also worthy of mention are Blake Pfeil as the abdominally-challenged Giuseppe Zangara and Jonathon Popp as the tormented Lee Harvey Oswald. The rest of the cast are either strong in their acting or singing, but not strong enough in either to merit mention.

I am grateful to the director and sound designer for not using live gunshots in the production due to the close proximity the actors have to the audience. However, the use of canned gunshot effects certainly lessens the intensity for which this show is known. It leaves one to wonder, if you can't use a live gunshot in Assassins should you produce the show at all? A question Company One should consider in their future productions.

No comments: