Assassins at the P.A.C.

January 9, 2014


There’s lots of fun and what seems like frivolity in Ronan Phelan’s entertaining production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, whose choice alone marks the SEEDS graduate out as an ambitious yet unpretentious helmsman. Like AA for presidential (although sometimes only attempted) assassins, it gave those soured by the perversion of a nations supposed USP-the disillusioned, resentful and dispossessed, a chance to put the record straight about why they tried to take out the Land of Opportunity’s figurehead, expressing the unthinkable in peppy musical hues.

What made it work was the fact that Phelan’s eyes weren’t only on pleasing the crowd but disturbing them. The underlying message of Assassins seemed to be that while our titular heroes may have fired the gunshots that were heard around the world, they didn’t really change it. So what’s their legacy?

Realised here, the characters become reflections in a fun house mirror of those little rages and that sense of injustice that percolates within us all. We have, most of us, fallen victim to the American Dream, and in showing how the murderers are the product of the same values as the men they tried to kill, you sometimes sense that you too may have reached for the gun had the opportunity arose.

For this sense of connection to be effective you need to work with a cast who can look beyond the stereotype and connect with the damaged soul beneath the song and dance. Not everyone here was up to the task. But those who were made crystal the undeniable fact that they were victims of the system they shook up, both before and after they became enemies of it

Paul Curley was a perfectly manic Charles Julius Guiteau, so delighted at being the centre of attention at last (after he shot President Garfield) that he couldn’t be anything but insane, an early victim of a nation developing an insatiable blood lust and thirst for revenge. Jack Ohlahan skirted close to skit in his turn as Samuel Byck, the man who tried to fly a plane into the White House and take out Richard Nixon, but when he eased off on the gruff shades of his character’s anger and laid on the desperation you almost rooted for him. While Claire Barrett threaded the fine line between kooky and imbalanced as Sarah Jane Moore.

Shane O Reilly nailed it best, as Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. Calmly he appears over and over, stressing his own point and that of his cohorts, pushing the popping-off of a president like a silky voiced salesman. All the time beneath the cool is the sense of an individual loosing control, crushed by a system, struggling to maintain a grip on his legacy as it is corrupted by time.

From the rest, there were restrained turns from Emmet Kirwan and Moe Dunford, a hysterical and deranged Anthony Kinahan and a surprisingly vapid performance from the usually intriguing Erica Murray. A little more could have been at stake for all concerned.

Booths final seduction and transformation of Ray Scannell’s mocking Balladeer into Lee Harvey Oswald, the most famous assassin proves the productions underlying point. The system can break even the most flag waving spokesperson into turning on it.

Perhaps one day even you!

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