Assassins, Boxer Rebellion Theater. Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman were clearly trying to shock people with their 1991 musical about the handful of men and women who've tried to kill a U.S. president. But ultimately they weren't sufficiently fed up with the status quo--in politics or the theater--to write something truly troubling or insightful. Instead the show is full of not-so-amazing revelations, such as the idea that all assassins are misfits of one kind or another.
Though not first-rate, Sondheim's music and lyrics can be engaging, witty, and moving in the right hands. But only a director as well versed in eccentric material as Michael S. Pieper has a chance with Weidman's bitter, flawed script. Supposedly a dark comedy, Assassins has never seemed funny to me, even when staged by seasoned Sondheim director Victoria Bussert for Pegasus Players in 1993. Pieper's ensemble wisely plays the material straight, performing even the most preposterous scenes--such as the one in which John Wilkes Booth goads Lee Harvey Oswald into killing Kennedy--as if they were historical truth. Even more impressive, Pieper's performers gracefully avoid Weidman's painfully obvious jokes, as when we're invited to laugh at would-be Ford killer Sara Jane Moore because she's an overweight fast-food junkie.
This finely performed show benefits in particular from having honey-voiced Steve Tomlitz as the narrator. And the Boxer Rebellion Theater's tiny space gives it a comfortable, cozy ambience.