'Assassins' Hits Mark with Insightful Portrayals

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Byline: Jeff Pizek Daily Herald Staff Writer


* * * 1/2 out of four

Location: Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

Times: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays through March 11

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission

Parking: Valet or street parking

Tickets: $25-$32

Box office: (773) 327-5252 or www.porchlighttheatre.com

Rating: Adult themes and language

Not everybody who's ticked at the president tries to kill him. It rarely works, and when it does, the slain leader just gets lionized.

In spite of this, plenty of people have attempted to take out America's commander in chief. Porchlight Music Theatre's production of "Assassins" presents us with singing, dancing versions of nine of them, from Ronald Reagan's would-be killer John Hinckley back to the first successful presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics and John Weidman's book examine the idea of assassination inside and out. Sometimes, the characters interact, underscoring the parallels between disenfranchised citizens across time. Sondheim and Weidman also get inside each assassin's head with vignettes dedicated to their reasons and methods.

"Assassins" does not excuse its subjects' actions, nor does it endorse their grievances. By boiling down their individual rationales into a singular desire for love, comfort and attention, it negates their political implications entirely. At the same time, it humanizes people often viewed as rebellious caricatures. Aside from a few songs that don't match the rest in tunefulness (that's Sondheim's doing, although his complex lyrics make up for it), this is a seamless show bolstered by Kevin Depinet's inventive scenic design and a uniformly compelling cast.

Steve Best nearly steals the show as Charles Guiteau, who shot James Garfield because he believed he was owed an ambassadorship to France. Best's Guiteau is a delusional narcissist, who nimbly dances around accusations of plagiarism, reinforced by the smugness of religion. …