ZERO :: the Fool (annwyd) wrote,
ZERO :: the Fool

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There are no lives of quiet desperation here.

The show was really damn good, let's get that clear. I do have some reservations, though.

I'll get their biggest and clearest mistake out of the way first. They cut the following exchange right out from the show:
BOOTH: Why, after you...
(He pauses)
GUITEAU: Tell him.
BOOTH: Should I tell him?
ASSASSINS (Variously): Go on!...Tell him!...Go ahead!
BOOTH: What the hell... Is Artie Bremer here tonight? Where's Artie Bremer?!
BREMER'S VOICE (From somewhere in the house): It was a bum rap! My penis made me do it!
(Assassins react; some laugh, Moore shrieks with embarassment)
BOOTH: Who's next?! Who else is out there?!
VOICE FROM THE HOUSE: Death to the enemies of Palestine!
BOOTH: Of course, of course! Sirhan Sirhan!
(A rebel yell from someplace else in the house)
And James Earl Ray!
(The Assassins give a rebel yell)
Why do these rednecks always have three names? James Earl Ray! John Wilkes Booth--!
OSWALD: --Lee Harvey Oswald!

The problem with this is that Assassins is a very tightly-structured show. Everything is important, so you have to be really careful about what you cut. That exchange is even more important than most--it's the moment where Oswald connects with the assassins of the past and the future. Without it, the whole climactic scene is missing something.
Mind you, it was still really good. The actors were amazing--despite the lack of Victor Garber, I actually wasn't disappointed in Booth, and Czolgosz managed to pull off the delicate balancing act of being alternately sympathetic and sinister. fatimaner's true love was excellent--he made a great Balladeer, and the conversion of Balladeer into Oswald was extremely well-done. And on top of that, he managed to pull off the power of the climactic scene even missing those key lines.
And then they fucked it all up by completely destroying the flow of the pacing, but I'll get to that later.
Byck's actor, it turns out, is a comedian my brother's familiar with from watching Comedy Central. He was very, very good, playing up the comic aspects of the character without sacrificing his overwhelming sense of alienation. I'm hugely pleased that he stayed in as a character; that had to have taken guts, and my father said he cringed about it, but it was necessary. Byck speaks for the post-Oswald assassins the way Booth speaks for the pre-Oswald ones.
The show's treatment of the divide between post- and pre-Oswald assassins is a mixed bag. The post-Oswald ones all had the appropriate aura of Total Crazy Loserness; the pre-Oswald ones, on the other hand...well. Booth is supposed to be charming and elegant as well as disturbing and misguided; the actor pulled that off. Guiteau is supposed to be almost likable in his earnest, crazy cheer; the actor pulled that off. Czolgosz is supposed to be tragic, to maximize the impact of seeing him give in to the idea that all the world's problems can be fixed by shooting somebody--the actor pulled that off. Zangara is supposed to be almost pitiable in his helpless anguish--the actor portrayed him as a raving, frothing madman more suited to the post-Oswald assassins. It's a relatively minor nitpick, since Zangara's not the most significant of characters, but it bugged me.
Then there's the matter of "Something Just Broke."
It's not as blatant and stupid a mistake as getting rid of some of the most important lines in the most important scene in the play. But it's frustrating all the same. Yes, it's a nice song. Yes, it's moving. But it doesn't fit. This is a done show. It's not like Follies, where you can mix and match songs and scenes without really damaging anything. Assassins relies on using the dramatic tension left over at the end of each scene to catapult it into the next, and in no place is this more obvious than the Oswald scene. Once the gunshot rings out, it's over. You need to move right into the denouement or it just doesn't feel right.
This production inserted "Something Just Broke" right before the final reprise of "Everybody's Got the Right." It did not work. My father insists that it was necessary, because it's Just Not Right to have a show focusing on the assassins without showing the consequences of their actions on the poor, poor public.
Which kind of misses the point, namely that the audience is the public. Everything else in the show indicates this. Think about the way that when Czolgosz reaches the head of the line and fires, he's facing the audience. We don't need to be reminded how the public felt. We are the public. The song--unlike pretty much everything else in this short, spare show--is not necessary, and inserting something unnecessary into such a crucial place in the show is a travesty. (For a travesty, though, its transition into the finale is done quite well. I'll give it that.)
Except that there is a sense in which it's necessary: the sense of placating people who worry that the show glorifies the assassins. Sure, it's necessary, because without it the show leaves people disturbed. And we can't have that, now can we? We must give the nice people a security blanket after showing them something as distressing as the Oswald scene.
Fuck that. Anyway, the same effect could have been achieved in better, less obtrusive ways--for instance, showing slides of people crying in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination as the scene shifted from the book depository to the final set. We do not need to be reminded what it feels like to hear news of an event that rips into America's heart. We do not need to be reminded--at least not by a ham-handed insertion of a nice but largely forgettable song--that someone who kills a person to make himself feel better about his role in society is not a role model.
But with that aside? It was a very, very good production. The setting, although quite static, was used very well indeed. The increased role of the Proprietor as the anti-Balladeer was kind of dubious--I'm less than thrilled about anything that weakens Booth's role as 'chief' and 'pioneer,' but it was well-executed and appropriately creepy.
Undoubtedly the weirdest part, though, was that I could swear there was a good strong dose of HoYay going on there with the Proprietor and the assassins. Especially Booth. And that was just bizarre.
Tags: theater

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