Sondheim musical examines infamy and politics through the lens of the small cadre of people who've tried, successfully and otherwise, to assassinate a President of the United States

Giuseppe Zangara was in pain. John Hinckley was in love (such as it was). John Wilkes Booth was a self-proclaimed patriot. Each was desperate enough to attempt to assassinate a President of the United States.

That trio, and the rest of the small-but-infamous cadre of souls who've assassinated or tried to assassinate a President, are the focus of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical “Assassins,” which Short North Stage presents through June 24.

“It's a look at infamy and exactly what that means,” director Gina Handy Minyard said. “There's the idea of being remembered, of making a mark in history, and also of just being listened to.”

Don't get the idea that Sondheim paints these figures as protagonists — “None is on the side of good, and they're all attempting to do something that's wrong,” Minyard said — but there is some empathy for their suffering.

“They're all at the end of their rope. They've tried other things and are desperate. Somehow they arrive at the idea that killing the person with the most power somehow justifies their suffering,” Minyard said.

While perhaps not overtly political, the play does address political or politicized topics such as the American dream and mental health. But where it's most political, Minyard said, is in that “it makes you strongly reflect on how we think about our politics.”