Theatre review: Assassins at the Gate Theatre, Dublin

Nicholas Proud in Assassins.

By Alan O’Riordan

4/5 stars

In theory, you can be anything you want to be in America. In practice, it’s more complicated. The gap between the sweet American Dream and bitter reality is at the core of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s musical, exploring it as they do via the extreme grudges and deluded egos of president killers, both would-be and successful.

In the dark humour of the piece, directed here by Selina Cartmell, trying to kill the president is as American as apple pie. Sarah Bacon’s old fairground is thus an apt setting — scary clowns, cotton candy, complete with “shoot the prez” attraction.

Structurally, Assassins is episodic, introducing the schmucks, losers, and misfits who wanted their shot. Mostly, it’s played for laughs — the show tunes get a dark twist, and the carnival’s “Hit” or, more usually, “Miss”, signs light up as a punchline. We begin with Matthew Seadon-Young’s bright portrayal of John Wilkes Booth. Mark O’Regan is in great form as the unhinged Charles Guiteau; Rory Corcoran’s John Hinckley wears his Travis Bickle obsession well, while Dan Gordon gives a hilarious turn as blue-collar slob Samuel Byck (a mall Santa who wants to take it out on Nixon). Another highlight is the fictional stroke of throwing opposites Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme (Kate Gilmore) and Sara Jane Moore (Aoibheann McCann) together in a bungled attempt on the life of Gerald Ford.

The laughter stops, however, at the Dallas book depository, where Gerard Kelly’s uncanny Lee Harvey Oswald is egged on by the other assassins to kill not himself, but the man whose motorcade is about to pass below. It’s a sombre, almost discordant note but it brings all the strands together for a finale that could be from Toxic Society: The Musical. “We’re the other national anthem,” they sing, “for the ones that get no place in the ball park … Where’s my prize?” That ball park, it seems, is getting smaller all the time, but we still all want the prize.

Until June 9

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