2022-23 season

2022-23 season

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bob Cox Gets His Crazy On As Assassin Giuseppe Zangara

Bob Cox gets a charge out of playing assassin Guiseppe Zangara
While it’s usually good to “follow your gut,” in the case of Giuseppe Zangara, not so much.  Zangara was an Italian immigrant with severe stomach problems that may have affected his mind as well.  He rationalized his attempt to kill President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 (his bullet missed FDR but killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak) because he thought wealthy and powerful people were somehow responsible for his bad stomach.  Bob Cox of Plymouth, who plays Zangara in the Farmington Players production of Assassins, says, “I think it also had a lot to do with his feeling that he wasn’t afforded the same opportunities that others were.”

This sense of opportunity lost and dreams unrealized is a constant theme of Assassins, which examines the minds and motives of the nine U.S. Presidential assassins. Bob says that his biggest challenge in playing Zangara is “trying to understand where he is coming from. He is a lower-class immigrant who has struggled with health issues his whole life. Zangara doesn’t feel like there is anybody representing him. Nobody is looking out for his best interest, or even paying attention. He attempts to make them pay attention by taking it to the highest extreme.”  And while some of the assassins appear more logical than others, Zangara is really crazy, which suits Bob just fine:  “I get to scream and shout and yell at people while on stage. Any frustrations I’ve had during the day are all released!”   

Bob’s big musical number is “How I Saved Roosevelt,” which shows an interesting juxtaposition between the media-hungry townspeople, and Zangara, who is strapped into the electric chair awaiting execution.  Bob describes the scene as “bone chilling. There is a very large contrast between the townspeople and I. They are talking about what a great vacation they’re having because they got to see [and save] the President … while I am coming to the realization that nobody will remember me, and that no one agrees or understands my reasoning for the attempt. I think this is the same realization that a lot of the assassins come to at different points during the show and it’s interesting to see how each assassin responds.”

Is there a moral to the story in Assassins?  Bob thinks there’s not so much a lesson to be learned, as there is an attempt to “put the audience in the assassins’ minds and show them what caused each of them to get to their breaking points.”  No one will sympathize with or support the assassins, but as Bob says, “this play is about understanding; not supporting… but understanding. I don’t support their actions, but I can see now what drove them to do the violent things they did. I hope if the audience takes one thing away from this show, it will be an understanding for people who think differently than themselves. I hope they’ll understand how our actions and thoughts are a direct reflection of our life experiences. Perhaps they can apply that understanding to someone who has a different political opinion, or who has different religious views.”

The Farmington Players' production of Assassins runs through March 1st and is proudly sponsored by the Center for Financial Planning, Inc.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955.

Friday, February 14, 2014

From Booth to Oswald: Nine Reasons to See Nine Assassins

Dan Crosby as Lee Harvey Oswald and David Galido as John Wilkes Booth. / Photo by Jan Cartwright
The Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins opens tonight (Valentine's Day) at the Farmington Players Barn Theater. I recently interviewed David Galido, who plays the enigmatic John Wilkes Booth, and asked him what people will enjoy about the show. His answers – in quotes – are interspersed with my own thoughts about the top nine reasons to see this show.

1.  The History:  You can’t make this stuff up; these guys and gals were real “characters.”  The nine U.S. Presidential assassins (and their targets) were: John Wilkes Booth (President Abraham Lincoln in 1865); Charles Guiteau (President James Garfield in 1881); Leon Czolgosz (President William McKinley in 1901); Guiseppe Zangara (President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was thought to be his intended target when he killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak in 1933); Lee Harvey Oswald (President John F. Kennedy in 1963); Sam Byck (hoped to kill President Richard Nixon in 1974 by crashing a plane into the White House, but his aborted hijacking attempt ended in suicide); Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore (both attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September 1975); and John Hinckley, Jr. (attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 in a misguided attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster).

2.  Artistic License:  Okay, you can make up some of this stuff.  Like, what would happen if all the assassins got together in one place at one time?  David said, “What I like most about John Wilkes Booth is the opportunity to play such a charismatic and manipulative character.  The other assassins look to him as their leader and in some cases Booth even convinces them to do the deed or at least sets them on the path to assassination.”

3.  The Process:  It isn’t always easy to play a character based on a real life historical person.  David described the process: “There is a historical record out there that can be used as research.  So you do as much reading as you can, watch documentaries; all of it gives you some insight to the potential thought process of the person who attempted to assassinate a president.  But in the end you are still creating the character; it has to come from you so that the audience sees this character on stage and believes this person is capable of murder.”

4.   You’ll Laugh:  Despite the subject matter, David says this show is flat out “funny.  Granted it’s a dark comedy, and these are some troubled individuals, but it’s very funny. At least in places.”

5.  You’ll Cry:  “At other times it is heart wrenching, watching someone who has lost all hope and truly believes the best action they have left to take, the only thing that might make their life worth something, is to take the life of another human being.”

6.  You’ll Feel:  “I personally don’t always go to see a show or a movie just to ‘feel good’ – sometimes I listen to a song on the radio that makes me cry and I leave it on because that is part of the human experience and I want to feel all of these things – a story that causes bewilderment or outrage is just as meaningful as watching a heartwarming tale of redemption or a laugh out loud slapstick comedy.  Art and theatre can do so many things beyond entertaining.  It can educate and enlighten and this show does those things as well.” 

7.  The Music:  It’s complex, challenging music, even by Sondheim standards.  It can be bold (“Everybody’s Got the Right”) and even beautiful (“Unworthy of Your Love”).  David acknowledges that “Jason Wilhoite has a fantastic voice and great stage presence as the Balladeer; audiences won’t want to miss it.  He and Music Director Rachael Rose have been a great help and given me so much confidence in my singing.”

8.  The Dream:   This show has been called an “interrogation” of the American Dream. (Miskoff, Ashley, "The Interrogation of the American Dream in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins" (2011). Honors Theses.Paper 29. http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/uhm/29)  David explains, “One of the ways this show will resonate with today’s audience is that each one of these assassins is living in a country that they no longer feel belongs to them.  They were taught to believe in America as the greatest country in the world, where everyone could grow up to realize their dreams and if they worked hard and did the right things they would become rich and happy.  And when these characters figure out that isn’t going to happen for them, they get desperate.  We are living in a country where a vanishing middle class and ever increasing income inequality could create an environment for more and more disenfranchised people.  And as Assassins shows, it only takes one frustrated person, one gun, and one bullet to ‘change the world’.”

9.  The Details:  Opening night will certainly make for a memorable Valentine’s Day date, but if you’ve got other plans tonight, the show runs through March 1st.  There’s even a special President’s Day performance on Monday February 17, with half-price ($9) tickets for students.  The Farmington Players' production of Assassins is proudly sponsored by the Center for Financial Planning, Inc.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955.