‘Assassins’ first opened at Playwrights Horizons during the 1991 Gulf War, to packed houses, of which the audience either embraced the subject matter or rejected it depending on their political slant to the then current President and the war itself. In many ways the shows real subject matter was hijacked, as ‘Assassins’ isn’t so much about political murder but lost and angry individuals, those who fall off the American dream machine.
I have always loved the show and its often hilarious, often moving statements on why any individual would feel the need to remove America’s ultimate symbol, its President. It’s not a new subject as any ruling system has its history of killings, backstabbing, poisoning and crucifixion. The surprise here is that reasons are often not political but domestic, internal, and not always perpetuated by men. What drove a housewife to try to assassinate Gerald Ford? Can the agony of a stomach ulcer drive you to kill? Can a man playing Santa Claus at the local store be the first to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House?
As a perfectly balanced individual reading this you will of course be thinking it is insane to murder when life isn’t what we want it to be, but a wise man once said ‘We are all, each of us, only two major events away from the street or a desperate act’. The Assassins were not a bunch of sociopaths; that is what makes their stories, all true of course, so interesting. From John Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Lincoln in reaction to the civil war and abolition of slavery, to hippie ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, who through a chance meeting with Charles Manson tried to kill President Ford to of course Lee Harvey Oswald.