Arts preview: Play takes aim at president assassins

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From the October 31, 2013 edition

“Assassins” is the second theatrical work from Red Herring Productions, a company spawned from the Red Herring Theatre Company and Red Herring Theatre Ensemble, which ran from the early ’90s to 2008. The new company’s first offering was last spring’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.”

During its initial run, Red Herring earned a reputation for theatre productions unlike any other in Columbus. “Assassins” director and Red Herring executive producer John Dranschak sees the latest production perfectly capturing that model.

“Our mission is and has been to do projects we’d always wanted to do that no one else in Columbus was doing. ‘Assassins’ epitomizes that mission,” said Dranschak, for whom “Assassins” has been a dream project for a long time.

“Assassins” is a widely acclaimed musical with music and lyrics by legendary composer Stephen Sondheim. It’s an unorthodox look at nine assassins who attempted and/or succeeded in killing a United States president. From John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley Jr., it’s a cast of eccentric and clearly disturbed characters presented in a new light.

“I would say it doesn’t ask the audience to empathize or sympathize with these assassins, but it does give you a better understanding [of their motivations],” Dranschak said. “Not all of them are lone nuts; maybe there’s something that does connect between them.”

“Assassins” gives you a backstory and occasionally a minor humanization of the men and women who attempted to murder the leader of the free world. And here’s the kicker — it’s pretty funny, in a dark way.

A handful of laugh-out-loud moments and levity throughout most of the production, whether from the songs or the performances, is possibly “Assassins’” biggest strength.

Samuel Byck (Todd Covert), who attempted to kill Richard Nixon by unsuccessfully hijacking and crashing a plane into the White House, is both frightening and hilarious, occasionally all at once. The only two women, Sarah Jane Moore (Kim Garrison Hopcraft) and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Kate Lingnofski), to ever attempt to kill the President (Gerald Ford) also presents giddy madness.