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PlayMakers brings ‘Assassins’ to the stage

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “Assassins” features presidential assassins and explores their plots and motives.

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “Assassins” features presidential assassins and explores their plots and motives.

The Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim explores the motivations behind the assassins’ plots to kill U.S. presidents.

Director Mike Donahue said the assassins are brought together in the musical by a carnival proprietor who sells them on the idea of the American dream and the thought that assassins have a right to be happy.

“There are moments when you’re meant to really sympathize with one of the assassins and connect with their vulnerabilities and insecurities,” Donahue said.

“There are other moments when it’s terrifying that there are these nine people running around the room with guns, but there are moments when someone shoots a gun and it’s actually funny in the show.”

Donahue said the musical doesn’t follow the structure of a traditional, linear narrative and doesn’t have a stable tone.

“The whole piece functions in a kind of anarchy, and it really is up to these nine assassins to take over and hijack the evening,” he said. “Once you set them off, it’s up to them to decide where we go next and what happens next.”

Jeffrey Meanza, associate artistic director at PlayMakers, plays Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield.

“He has a real strong physical desire for connecting to people. He also has this really strong spiritual connection to his God, and it’s actually largely what drove him to assassinate James Garfield,” he said.

Meanza said audiences should expect the unexpected with “Assassins,” which will bring never before seen elements to the PlayMakers’ stage.

“Historical figures are bumping up against each other in ways that would be impossible in real life,” he said.

“I think it’s a roller coaster ride of a show, and it’s got some incredible music — music that will feel, at times, familiar and, at other times, completely terrifying and exciting.”

Music director Mark Hartman, who also served as music director for  said he has loved the score for “Assassins” since he got the original cast album in 1991.

“Each assassin has a number sort of written in the style of the popular music of the time period from which they lived,” Hartman said. “However, it’s all sort of filtered through Stephen Sondheim’s harmonic language and his style as a composer.”

Joseph Haj, producing artistic director at PlayMakers, said he chose “Assassins” for PlayMakers’ season in connection with “The Story of a Gun,” — a one-man show by Mike Daisey that was presented in January — because he wanted some of the season’s plays to explore the question of guns in U.S. culture.

“Sondheim’s play is very good about not handing out easy answers, and I don’t think it’s our job to pose the answers — I think it’s our job to pose the questions,” he said.

“I think a nation of 300 million people and 300 million guns is worthy of interrogation, and I’m very interested in the community dialogue about the questions that are raised by these plays.”

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