Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Have gun, will travel

September 05, 2008

For those of you looking for my 21st century opera contest click here. My friend Howard recommended I check out the West Coast Ensemble’s current production of Sondheim’s Assassins now playing at the El Centro Theater in Hollywood, which I did recently. He was quite right, it’s an excellent production and somewhat of a minor miracle given that the El Centro is a small venue with comparatively little in terms of resources. Director Richard Israel cannily uses the sparseness of the space to maximum benefit. Instead of going for big eye-catching effects, he works off the claustrophobia of the tiny room. The set consists of little more than an empty wooden stage whose back panel opens out in several swinging doors while a few strings of carnival lights adorn the barn-like space. It has a feeling that is quintessentially American in a carnivalesque way. And, although the performance I saw was marred by some malfunctioning lights that no one could quite figure out how to fix, leaving everyone down stage in the dark, the show is the witty slap in the face it should be.

The cast is quite good and manages to navigate the difficult cross between comedy and the grotesque Sondheim and collaborator John Weidman laid out in this thorny score. Shannon Stoeke stars as the Proprietor and Lee Harvey Oswald and manages to provide a sly core among a number of very clever performances from John O’Brien as Samuel Byck, Beth Lane as Sara Jane Moore, Darrin Revitz as Squeaky Fromme, and David Nadeau as John Hinkley. Vocals are solid and the intimate setting helps eliminate vocal projection problems. When gunshots go off, as they are prone to do here, the audience feels them. So for a visceral evening at the theater, you won’t do much better than this. The production has been extended through September 28, which is good news.


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