About Assassins, which tries to make sense of the lives of eight people who killed or tried to kill American presidents, I had mixed feelings. The production is all but perfect, but the show itself, despite marvelous moments, simply doesn’t add up. Assassins, I wrote,
takes the form of a carnival sideshow whose brass-voiced barker (Marc Kudisch) invites unhappy passers-by to forget their troubles by stepping right up and taking a potshot at the man in the Oval Office: “No job? Cupboard bare?/One room, no one there?/Hey, pal, don’t despair–/You wanna shoot a president?” That’s the message of “Assassins,” such as it is: if only there were ice cream for everyone, Camelot would still be with us! Instead, we preach the American dream, and some of those born losers who find it hollow seek to even the score with a gun: “And all you have to do/Is/Squeeze your little finger./Ease your little finger back–/You can change the world.”
Aside from being sophomoric, this rigidly reductive thesis clashes with the core of “Assassins,” a series of sharply drawn sketches of eight successful and would-be presidential assassins. Not surprisingly, this is the part of the show where Mr. Sondheim finds his footing, since his other musicals are exclusively concerned not with ideas but feelings (or the inability to feel). Not even in “Sweeney Todd,” which purports to locate its antihero’s murderous rage in the dehumanizing context of 19th-century British industrialism, does he betray any real interest in or understanding of politics. For Mr. Sondheim, the political is personal, and no matter how hard he and Mr. Weidman try to persuade us that their desperate characters are meaningful symbols of mass alienation, we persist in seeing them as individual objects of pity united only in their varied forms of despair…
Intimate Apparel, on the other hand, couldn’t be better:
It’s an old-fashioned domestic tragedy, as simple and true as a silent movie, about an illiterate turn-of-the-century seamstress who falls hard for the wrong man. Uncomplicatedly staged by Daniel Sullivan on a beautifully spare set designed by Derek McLane, “Intimate Apparel” is devoid of surprise save for the fact that it’s so good. As for Viola Davis, who leads the superlative cast, she’s not just good–she’s perfect. Rarely have I seen innocence and yearning blended to such precisely balanced effect. The only thing wrong with Ms. Davis is that the script says she’s supposed to be homely, which she isn’t (though she acts homely)….
No link, so step right up, hand over one silver dollar, turn to the “Weekend Journal” section, and read the whole thing there.