Meet The Assassins: Leon Czolgosz

Meet the Actor: Brandon O’Neill

Brandon O’Neill joins the cast as Leon Czolgosz.  He has performed on the ACT stage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Ramayana for which he received both a Broadway World Award and a Footlight Award, and First Date, which earned him a Gregory Award nomination. He has been seen recently at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Carousel, The Pirates of Penzance, for which he received a Gregory Award nomination, Guys and Dolls which earned him a Footlight Award, and many others.

O’Neill’s regional work includes Seattle Rep (A View From The Bridge), Casa Manana (Miss Saigon), North Shore Music Theatre (Joseph…) and the Ordway Center (Pirates of Penzance and Cabaret). O’Neill originated the role of “Kassim” in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. His voice can be heard nightly on Broadway and in London as The Voice of the Cave of Wonders. He can also been seen as Uldren Sov in Bungie’s epic video game franchise, Destiny.

Meet the Assassin: Leon Czolgosz

Born in 1873, Leon Czolgosz was the son of Polish immigrants. A steel worker by trade, the poor working conditions and low wages led to him become interested in socialist and anarchist ideologies. After losing his job and battling depression, he immersed himself further into the study of socialism and anarchy, believing that there to be great inequality and injustice in the American system and a complicit government.

Inspired by Gaetano Bresci, a European anarchist that had assassinated King Umberto I of Italy, Czolgosz set his sights on President William McKinley whom he assassinated in 1901. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. A year later, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for presidential protection.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Tracy Martin of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Thoughts on Assassins: Human Qualities in These Stories of Unfulfilled Hopes

I have loved the score of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins since I first heard the off-Broadway soundtrack in the early 1990s. The stylistically varied music reflected the historic scope of the tales being told and offered a unification of storytelling the likes of which I had never heard.  I was a bit nervous to see my first professional staging of a score I had loved and had strong feelings about for such a long time, but seeing this Assassins was a full realization of all that I could imagine for this show. I left feeling drained but also knowing that I had experienced an important work of stagecraft.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Assassins: Human Qualities in These Stories of Unfulfilled Hopes”

Meet The Assassins: Emma Goldman

Kjerstine Anderson WebMeet the Actor: Kjerstine Anderson

Kjerstine Anderson makes her 5th Avenue and ACT debutas Emma Goldman in Assassins. Her regional work includes seven seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Into the Woods (Little Red Riding Hood), The Unfortunates, My Fair Lady, The Servant of Two Masters, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Distracted, Cyrano de Bergerac, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Winters Tale. She was seen at Cal Shakes in King Lear (Cordelia/The Fool) and in the Idaho Shakespeare Festival/Great Lakes Theater Festival in The Taming of The Shrew (Bianca). She was seen recently in Seattle in Book-It Repertory Theater’s Sense and Sensibility (Elinor).


Meet the Assassin: Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman was an anarchist known for her political activism who also interacted several times with Leon Czolgosz. She has appeared as a character in two musicals, Assassins and Ragtime, and has also appeared as a character in multiple films. Known as “the most dangerous woman in America” for her anarchist and feminist  ideals in a conservative time period, Goldman is now recognized as being far ahead of her time. She was a prolific writer, penning countless pamphlets and articles on a diverse range of subjects, ultimately authoring 6 books.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Tracy Martin of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Thoughts on Assassins: Gun Violence, the American Dream, and The Cult of Celebrity

My feelings about Assassins, the co-production between The 5th Avenue Theater and ACT, are difficult to unpack, but I will attempt to share some of my thoughts. I saw the show right after a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense meeting where I learned some staggering statistics about American children growing up in homes with loaded and unlocked guns. I learned that children in America are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the home than children in other developed countries. I also learned that 1.7 million children live in homes where there is a loaded and unlocked gun. And I heard the heartbreaking stories of children killed, unintentionally, by guns. I left this meeting to see the new production of Assassins at ACT and I was geared up for a challenging show that dealt with the complex issue of guns in America. But I was wrong. Yes, there are guns featured (there’s even a song dedicated to their allure). Yes, there are gun shots (lots of them, and they are loud). And yes, presidents are killed, but there is very little violence. In fact, there is no blood spilled on stage. The only glimpse the audience gets of a dead man is when one of the assassins is hanged for his crime.

Assassins is not about guns, or even gun violence. Instead, it is about what it means to be American and to seek the Dream that is part of our national psyche. It is about the cult of celebrity and what makes someone famous. It is about mental illness. It is about history and all of the people, both good and bad, who make up the story of our country. But ultimately it is about humanity, both the dark and light sides of being human.

Sondheim does not glorify the lives of the Assassins. But he does humanize them. Despite the heinous acts these people committed (and yes, I believe murder is a heinous act), they are human and have the same hopes, desires and dreams that we all have. What surprised (and troubled) me the most in seeing the show was how often I empathized with the men and women featured. I have felt feelings of loneliness and despair. I understand the feeling of not being heard or appreciated. And I share feelings of frustration with government and society at large. But I don’t believe that the answer to my own struggle is to shoot someone in order to make myself heard. And that is where I, and the assassins portrayed in the show, differ.

Assassins is about a group of people desperate to be heard, but who feel lost and hopeless. The show opens with the song “Everybody’s Got the Right (To be Happy).” Isn’t that the American Dream? “Everybody’s got the right to their dreams…Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine,” sing the show’s characters. And this is true. Our country was founded on the principles that we are free to make our own choices and free to speak our minds. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But at what cost? In Assassins, Sondheim gives us 9 men and women who are lost in their own pursuit of happiness and who, in acts of desperation, commit or attempt to commit murder to make a statement.

And they become celebrities. It is ironic that the only actor from the 1860s whose name anyone remembers is John Wilkes Booth. He became famous not for his work on stage, but for killing President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. The musical forces us, the audience, to question the “cult of celebrity” and consider who becomes famous and why.

For me, the heart of the show comes with the song “Something Just Broke.” All the actors are on stage singing about hearing “the President’s been shot” and feeling all of the grief and loss that come in that moment. But there’s something more. There is also the feeling that we as a society are “broke[n].” People feel so disconnected, that we cannot find an avenue for our voice, and some feel the need to act out in extreme ways. Sondheim and Weidman are not advocating for murder, but they are forcing us, as members of a society, to investigate how and why we feel disenfranchised. Perhaps that is what we see and hear playing out in this year’s election cycle?

I left the theatre feeling sad, but also hopeful. That may sound like a paradox, but I walked away feeling the need to talk to people, to share my thoughts and to find ways to connect. Perhaps if we connect more, talk more, love more and care more than we will not feel so alone and desperate in the world.

And that is the power of good theatre.

By ANYA RUDNICK, Director of Education and Outreach
Photo by TRACY MARTINMark and Tracy Photography

Meet The Assassins: John Hinckley

Meet The Actor: Frederick Hagreen

Frederick Hagreen  is elated to make his ACT debut playing John Hinckley in  Assassins. His recent Seattle credits include critically acclaimed Come From Away (Seattle Rep); American Idiot, Really, Really (ArtsWest); Jasper in Deadland, Pirates of Penzance (5th Avenue Theatre); Mary Poppins, and Les Miserables (Village Theatre), among others.

Meet The Assassin: John Hinckley Jr.

John Hinckley, Jr. developed an obsession with a young Jodie Foster after watching the 1976 film Taxi Driver, about the same time in his life that he was first prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers to deal with “emotional issues.” Hinckley was so driven by his obsession with Foster that when she entered Yale University, he quickly moved to New Haven, enrolling in a Yale writing class in order to slip poems and messages under her door. After failing to develop meaningful contact with Foster, he developed a scheme to impress her by assassinating the president. He initially trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state before being arrested in Nashville on a firearms charge. He returned home, penniless.

Despite continued treatment for his depression, Hinckley’s mental health did not improve and he developed a new plan around newly-elected president Ronald Reagan. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley shot a .22 caliber revolver six times at Reagan as he departed the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  While he did not hit the president directly, a bullet ricocheted off the limousine door and seriously wounded Regan in the chest. Hinckley’s shots also wounded a police office, a secret service agent, and press secretary James Brady, who was hit in the side of the head and paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and has been confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. since that time. His obsession with Foster continues today.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Mark Kitaoka of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Meet The Assassins: Sara Jane Moore

Meet the actor: Kendra Kassebaum

5th Avenue Theatre regular Kendra Kassebaum joins the cast as Sara Jane Moore. Previous 5th Ave and ACT credits include Jacques Brel…The Secret Garden, A Little Night MusicCompanyCinderella, ELF.   Her work on Broadway and in New York includes Wicked (Glinda), RENT (Maureen), Assassins (Ensemble/Squeaky Fromme us), Leap of Faith (Sam)MTC’s The Receptionist (Lorraine), and Roundabout Theatre’s A Little Night Music (Petra). Her local work includes critically acclaimed Seattle Rep’s Come From Away.  Kassebaum’s regional credits include the Actors Theater of Louisville, Sundance Writer’s Lab, San Jose Rep, Ordway Center, Florida Stage, St. Louis Muny and the Arizona Theatre Company. Her film and recording credits include The Other WomanLeap of Faith and the Grammy-nominated Assassins cast recording.

Meet the Assassin: Sara Jane Moore

Sara Jane Moore made history for trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford just 17 days after Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s attempt in 1975. Moore was an accountant and involved in radical left wing politics.  Because of this connection to radical groups, she became an FBI informant.

The day before the assassination attempt, Moore had been picked up by police on an illegal handgun charge. She was released, but the police confiscated her weapon. The following morning she purchased a new handgun in haste and assumed a place among the crowd outside the St. Francis Hotel. She was about 40 feet away from the president when she fired and narrowly missed—the sites on her new .38 caliber revolver were six inches off! When she realized that she missed, she raised her arm to fire again and Oliver Sipple, a former Marine wrestled her to the ground after knocking the pistol out of her hand.

After her sentencing, Moore stated “Am I sorry I tried? Yes and no. Yes, because it accomplished little except the throw away the rest of my life. And, no, I’m not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger.” Moore was released on December 31, 2007 a the age of 77 after serving 32 years of her life sentence at the federal women’s prison in Dublin, California.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Tracy Martin of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Meet The Assassins: The Proprietor

Meet the Actor: Nick DeSantis

Nick DeSantis joins the cast as The Proprietor in his ACT debut  He has been seen onstage in Seattle at The 5th Avenue Theatre, The Village Theatre and ArtsWest.  His favorite roles include Sunday in the Park… (Franz), ELF (Mr. Greenway), Les Misérables (Thenardier), No Way to Treat A Lady (Kit Gill), Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Lumière) and I Am My Own Wife.

Meet the Assassins: The Proprietor

The Proprietor is one of the handful of non-historical figures in Assassins. A gun salesman who provides the characters with their weapons at the beginning of the show, the Proprietor plays on the ambitions, motivations and ramblings of the would-be assassins by acting as the pioneer  of all assassins, enticing them to enter a tawdry carnival. He invites them to play a game, promising that their problems will be solved by killing a president.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 17-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Mark Kitaoka of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Meet The Assassins: Lee Harvey Oswald

Meet the actor: Nathan Brockett

Nathan Brockett joins the cast as Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald is thrilled to make his ACT and 5th Ave debut with this show and team. He is a recent transplant to the Northwest from Austin, TX where he graduated with a BA in Theatre Performance and just completed a two-year Meisner acting program. Brockett’s Recent Seattle credits include The Rocky Horror Show at SMT, Zapoi! at Annex Theatre, and the Gregory Award-winning production of Into the Woods with STAGEright.

Meet the assassin: Lee Harvey Oswald

Born in 1939, Lee Harvey Oswald was a former US Marine sniper who, following a troubled military service, defected to the Soviet Union before returning to the United States with a Russian wife and baby daughter a few years later. They settled in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas where he struggled to maintain a job and at one point (just eleven days before the assassination), attempted to return to the Soviet Union via Cuba.

On November 22, 1963, according to five different government investigations, Oswald assassinated President Kennedy as he traveled by motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Oswald was charged with the assassination of President Kennedy on November 23 and was murdered the following day by Jack Ruby, a night club owner, while being transferred from the police station to the county jail. Due to Ruby’s actions, Oswald’s motive for assassinating the president was never made clear.

After the assassination Kennedy, presidents stopped riding in open cars, with efforts to make vehicles presidents are transported in more secure from different forms of attack. Some of the features now standard in presidential limos may include armor plating, bullet proof windows, and an interior that is sealed off from the outside world to reduce risks of a chemical attack.

Meet the Assassins: Highlights

Louis Hobson portrays infamous assassin John Wilkes Booth


Arguably the most well-known presidential assassin in our nation’s history, John Wilkes Booth was an American stage actor and Confederate sympathizer. Born in 1838 into a prominent theatrical family, Booth made his stage debut at the age of 17 and quickly developed a reputation as an outrageous scene stealer, strikingly handsome and intensely physical onstage.

As the Civil War began to tear the country apart, Booth continued to perform extensively across the country, though he was arrested in St. Louis at one point for “treasonous remarks” against the President and the government. In late 1864, he even developed a plot to kidnap President Lincoln and smuggle him into Richmond, Virginia in an effort to bring victory to the South. A last minute change in plans on the part of the President foiled the plan. Continue reading “Meet the Assassins: Highlights”

An Interview with ACT’s Artistic Director John Langs

What was your first experience with Assassins and how does that inform your approach today?

I worked on a production of Assassins in college with [set designer] Brian Bembridge—and Brian and I have continued to work together for 20 years. It was a powerful early theatre experience for me, one of those times when I dropped into the power of language as carried by music, and its ability to open people up to mystery. There’s a lot of magic in the piece, something a little mysterious and sinister, but incredibly appealing. I think that those early impulses and feelings have traveled with me through the years.

How do you think the container of Sondheim’s music and those American themes inform the content?

The character of The Balladeer in this production is the all-American troubadour, but his job is to tell the story of historical assassins. It’s a way for Sondheim to say: Open your heart to this music, to America, and now take a look at what’s really there.

Which ties into the big question: why do Assassins now?

We chose the musical in an election year deliberately. ACT proves itself over and over again to not be adverse to risk; it’s a place where we want to have conversations— and certainly gun control has, most recently and very tragically in our country, become a flashpoint. I think the thing that’s still true about America is that there is a promise that if you work hard, you will get ahead. And when people find out that promise to them is broken, sometimes they will do extreme things to manifest that which they cannot through acts of goodness. [In Assassins] you have a bunch of people who are seeking celebrity, or a place in history, or a moment to matter, because they’ve been so absolutely disenfranchised. I think when we created the American promise, we inadvertently created the possibility of a broken promise, and these [characters] are people who bought into that promise, and feel that it’s been out of their reach.

What unique or additional artistic opportunities are afforded to you by working with The 5th Avenue Theatre?

What the leadership at The 5th Avenue brings is a terrific discussion about the form of musical theatre, and there’s a wonderful debate in order to find a show that fits the missions of both theatres. If you stripped the music out of Assassins, you would still have a story that was compelling and fascinating; the poetry, depth of language, and ambition of the discussion is revelatory—and that is what ACT looks for in a play. I think the sweetness of Assassins is this musical spoonful of sugar to help it begin to go down easier before it opens up underneath you, and speaks in a more powerful way—because music is a conduit to the heart that’s so immediate. That’s what makes this a perfect thing here.

What do you see as the most exciting or challenging aspects of directing this musical?

I’ve never directed any of these actors before. I’ve admired their work in a lot of what I’ve seen around town, [but] they’re all new to me. And that’s thrilling! I began the process with a great deal of enthusiasm and also the humility to know that there are relationships that have to be built.

Is there anything that you want people to know about Assassins before they watch it?

I think that there’s sort of a dark magic woven into this piece, I really do. It is a satire, not a celebration. Great art stirs you up and can make you angry. But after the anger comes the conversation. After the heartache comes a sort of epiphany. And I think that’s what this play offers really well.