In the Alcazar theater on Geary Street, hand guns are singing Stephen Sondheim. They’re singing wake up. They’re singing the songs of nine well versed lost-at-the-wheel dreamers, and it sounds like it’s keeping Bay Area Musicals up all night.
It is the levity and comicality that musicals often carry that allow them to address issues fraught with pain and controversy. This is wholly true in the case of Assassins, which touches on both gun rights and mental illness, while somehow stealing away quite a few laughs in the process.
The set lies quiet and bare, only consisting of large frames striped in bare bulbs for our suspects to stand within. Of course on a stage raining gunfire it is hard for any backdrop to compete with such volume. There is, however, an intimacy that these two characteristics, bare set and loud props, when combined, achieve. That intimacy lies in both the vulnerability of a wide open space, and the sudden shock a gunshot creates. The cast of this production takes full advantage of this vulnerability as they appear on stage most often in large groups seemingly wiping the sympathy from each others’ vulnerable and irrational brows. The Proprietor, played by Eric Neiman, survives with his whole heart within his evil and attentive grin. He is the ghost of mental illness, and is found looking lovingly upon misfortune, while also attending to misery’s company. And some of these assassins, their faces are painted in misery.
The camaraderie born between these performers within the hour and a half easily escalates the plausibility of their terrible ideas becoming unforgiving actions. The acting inspires a mob mentality that is no less persuasive, even if the mob is merely the voices of deranged ghosts inside of the assassin’s heads.
To dance between these dark, heavy themes with upbeat musical numbers and smiling singing players almost mocks the need to patronize America’s denial by repackaging some of it’s most harmful issues. This brave work is best exemplified by Sage Georgevitch-Castellano’s portrayal of both the Balladeer as well as Lee Harvey Oswald. His two faced performance exonerates the guilt that comes with rooting for the bad guy. In fact, the motivations of all our “bad guys,” though stark in contrast, from a life of discouraged confusion, to ailing health, to a bid at fame, are understood more-so within the acting-than the song and dance. The comedy can be a bit slap-stick and quick from the tongues of apparent lunatics, but it repeatedly caught the crowd, and kept them laughing.
Assassins is a clever history lesson and from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinkley it delves playfully into what plagues some of America’s most well known villians. It is because this performance is so human, the dubious nature of the content is forgotten for fun and heart on a Saturday night.
“Assassins” continues at the Alcazar Theatre through March 18th. For further information click here.