It's no cliché to describe Assassins, Stephen Sondheim's dark musical meditation on the men and women who've either killed or tried to kill an American president, as history viewed in a funhouse mirror. The fast-paced revue is set in an amusement park shooting gallery where time bends and characters, who never actually knew one another, come face to face. It's a place where Lincoln's murderer, John Wilkes Booth, provides inspiration for John F. Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. It's a melodic dystopia where the dizzy Charles Manson acolyte Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme teaches dizzy and disgruntled former bookkeeper Sara Jane Moore how to shoot by taking potshots at a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket.
Using reconstructed snatches of "Hail to the Chief," Sousa marches, and 1970s pop songs, Assassins probes the mind of the deranged megalomaniac Charles Guiteau as he marches to the gallows and a self-professed nobody named Giuseppe Zangara whose murderous desires were brought on by severe stomach pains. It allows viewers to slip easily behind John Hinckley's glasses as he sings about his love for Jodie Foster and his desire to kill Ronald Reagan.
Sondheim's darkly comic sketch of American history's most desperate figures, as they pursue the fame they think they deserve, has appeared in Memphis twice before. Both Circuit Playhouse and Rhodes College have staged award-winning productions of this controversial classic. Now the University of Memphis is ready to take its shot. Helmed by third-year MFA candidate David Shouse and performed by a gun-toting ensemble that includes many of the city's most promising young actors, Assassins promises to be a blast.
"Assassins," November 8th-10th and 15th-17th, 8 p.m. Department of Theatre & Dance, University of Memphis. $10-$15.