Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Evan Casey, Rachel Zampelli, Bobby Smith,
Tracy Lynn Olivera, Vincent Kempski,
Lawrence Redmond, Ian McEuen, Sam Ludwig
and Christopher Bloch

Photo by Christopher Mueller
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, built its reputation on the musicals of Stephen Sondheim and is kicking off its 30th-anniversary season with a bristling and deeply felt production of Assassins.

In this spellbinding musical, Sondheim and book writer John Weidman examine the dark side of the American dream through the eyes of nine people who—driven by personal grievance, festering anger, a sense that they are missing out on the happiness they are entitled to—strike back by attacking the president of the United States.

Scenic designer James Kronzer sets the surrealistic tale in a decrepit theater; to one side of the bare stage—because this is Washington—is a crumbling re-creation of the stage box at Ford's Theatre where Abraham Lincoln sat when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him in 1865. The bunting is dusty and faded, haze hangs in the air, light filters through the cracks in the rear wall, but the space gradually comes to life as the lost souls gather and the proprietor of a seedy shooting gallery (Kurt Boehm) hands out the weapons.

Director Eric Schaeffer has brought together a dream team of Signature regulars and newcomers to play these meaty roles. Even the five members of the ensemble, who appear in small roles and perform two numbers as a group, include three Helen Hayes Award recipients: Jimmy Mavrikes, Nova Y. Payton, and Maria Rizzo.

Lest the show sound utterly grim, there's showmanship and (admittedly dark) comic relief as the assassins mingle across the decades and form a community.

Highlights of the production: Vincent Kempski as Booth, self-justifying and persuasive; Bobby Smith's manic joy and boundless confidence as Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield in 1881 out of a delusion that he would be an ambassador in Garfield's administration; Lawrence Redmond's weary dignity as Leon Czolgosz, a poor workingman who, as he sees it, has to shoot President William McKinley to protest the way the wealthy abuse the working poor; and Tracy Lynn Olivera and Rachel Zampelli as Sara Jane Moore and Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme, self-absorbed women (respectively a ditzy housewife and a follower of Charles Manson) trying to bring down President Gerald Ford. Maybe the most chilling is Sam Ludwig, who starts out as the voice of reason but ultimately morphs into grinning madness.

Kathleen Geldard's costumes range stylistically from Booth's flash and Guiteau's fastidiousness to Moore's bland 1970s ensemble. Chris Lee's lighting design incorporates both projections of historic photos and 19th-century footlights.

Signature Theatre
August 11th - September 29th, 2019
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr.
Proprietor: Kurt Boehm
Leon Czolgosz: Lawrence Redmond
John Hinckley: Evan Casey
Charles Guiteau: Bobby Smith
Giuseppe Zangara: Ian McEuen
Samuel Byck: Christopher Bloch
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme: Rachel Zampelli
Sara Jane Moore: Tracy Lynn Olivera
John Wilkes Booth: Vincent Kempski
Balladeer: Sam Ludwig
David Herold: Christopher Mueller
Emma Goldman: Maria Rizzo
James Blaine: Christopher Michael Richardson
President James Garfield: Jimmy Mavrikes
Billy: Jack St. Pierre
President Gerald Ford: Jimmy Mavrikes
Lee Harvey Oswald: Sam Ludwig
Ensemble: Jimmy Mavrikes, Christopher Mueller, Nova Y. Payton, Christopher Michael Richardson, Maria Rizzo
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or