USM Theatre gets trigger happy with "Assassins" - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

USM Theatre gets trigger happy with "Assassins"

Photo courtesy of the University of Southern Mississippi Photo courtesy of the University of Southern Mississippi

The following is a review & contains spoilers:

I knew very little about USM'S production of Assassins when I saw it. I tried to make it as anonymous as possible so I wouldn't spoil it for myself. The only thing I heard was "It's a play about people trying to kill the president." I kept an open mind. As the opening musical number began; it was strange, dark, and beautiful. A play called assassins you tend to start thinking about people who have and tried to kill the president. So slowly, one by one, I started noticing things…"that guy looks like John Hinkley…and that guy looks like Leon Czolgosz" I started putting together the pieces quickly, especially when during the number John Wilkes Booth walked out from under the trap door. I thought "…This is a musical about ACTUAL assassins!"

USM's production of Assassins is bizarre but in all the right ways! It's so off the beaten path that you can't help but love it. It's strange at first but you get use to the fact that most of the musical numbers they're dancing with guns loaded with BLANKS! It's like if Tarantino did a production of Swan Lake.

Whoever did the casting for this play deserves an award. Every cast member is so strong in their performance; I can't pick out my favorite. I have to say a big kudos to Michael Morrison (no relation) as the ‘Proprietor'. If you saw the play, you didn't realize that he was in most of the scenes; Blending into the background seamlessly and only needed when asked upon. Sometimes subtlety is the best performance. Other great performances included Megan Poole's demented "Squeaky" Fromme along with her dimwitted sidekick Sara Jane Moore played by Rachael Swartz, The eccentric Charles Guiteau played by Bennett Forrest, timid yet abrasive John Hinkley played by Sawyer McLeod, and the two insane immigrant assassins; Leon Czolgosz played by Kendall Kiker and Giuseppe Zangara played by Adam Rowell.

But every villain has to have a good guy and that's where Drew Arnold came in as the 'Balladeer'. Dressed as a mid-western ranch hand, Drew's voice was of reason and the American people. His singing pretty much summed up every presidential assassian, "these people won't be remembered as martyrs...just maniacs!".

I have to say John Wilkes Booth played by Chase Byrd was incredible. Only an actor who is willing to devote himself to such material that to most would probably look silly can pull this off. He looked the part and acted the part with the self-absorbed prowess that his character possessed. Then there is Samuel Byck. From the moment Parker Singletary uttered his first line, which was a big f-bomb; I knew this guy was something. You believed he was Byck, the frustrated blue collar worker who tried to crash a plane into the white house. Singletary never let's up as this intense character. He plays it as a disturbed Chris Farley but you take him at his every word.

One exception though was the character of Lee Harvey Oswald. That one threw me for a loop. I wasn't sure if it was the direction or writing but something seemed off about his scene. In the play, Oswald is written as a sympathetic character that is forced to commit the assassination of Kennedy by the "Ghost of Assassins Past". Knowing history, it was a bit of a stretch for me to put disbelief aside. The performance as well was underwhelming. I'm guessing it was due to the character being more somber and serious than the rest of the cast. While the rest of the cast had a range of emotions and scenes to express their different personalities; Oswald was stuck with being dour, stern, and stiff.

That is only a mild complaint. Everything from the costumes, the background dancers and performers, the different sets, and especially the direction done so by Robin Carr; it's all top notch.

I'm saddened to say that I saw this play on its last performance but I will highly recommend the next production USM's Theatre and Dance department has.

I loved it! I give this production three and half pictures out of 4 pictures of Andy Samberg dressed as Nicolas Cage saying "That's high praise."

SIDE NOTE: If you go to a play, BE QUIET! I had a group of people behind me who whispered the whole time. Most of the things they said had nothing to do with the play. I'm surprised none of the actors on stage were distracted by it. This isn't a movie or you watching TV in your living room. This is a performance done by people who have spent months preparing to give an audience the best performance they can deliver. SO PLEASE respect the arts.

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