WALLINGFORD — An upcoming production by the Square Foot Theatre will give student actors a chance to portray some of the most reviled figures in American history.
“Assassins,” the 1990 musical by Stephen Sondheim, explores the crazed motives of both would-be and successful presidential assassins, allowing the historical figures to transcend time and meet each other.
The show is a production of the theater’s college intensive program, where college-age actors can hone performance skills during winter break in a show that’s produced in two-and-a-half weeks, so fast students needed to arrive at the first rehearsal with lines memorized.
“We’re not condoning the assassination of presidents,” said Jared Andrew Brown, theater co-founder. “But rather choosing a show that makes history interesting, learning exciting and the arts alive.”
Brown said that he has “a great board of directors that allow us to do these shows” that otherwise might be rejected by a school board or other groups of theater advisers.
“When I first talked to the cast of ‘Assassins,’” Brown said, “I told them Patrick (Laffin, theater co-founder) and I are blessed to have a theater company that we can bring works like this to the community, and allow them an opportunity to see something they might not have been privy to before.”
The characters are based on real assassins, including the infamous John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald and the lesser-known, like anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley in 1901, and Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who attempted to kill President Gerald Ford in 1975.
“The actors are learning so much about them that we see their characters really jump off the page,” Brown said.
Kaity Marzik, 20, plays Sara Jane Moore, who also attempted to assassinate Ford, just 17 days after Fromme.
She said her character is “kind of a mess. Her gun keeps going off and she can’t keep it together.”
But during her imagined conversations with Fromme, plotting their attempts to kill Ford, “she feels more like she’s in control, like she has a purpose and a cause.”
Marzik, of West Hartford, said she has participated in seven Square Foot Theatre shows and is applying to theater conservatories.
Meriden native Kuhlken Gorman, 23, plays Charles Guiteau, who mortally wounded President James A. Garfield in 1881. Garfield died two months after being shot when his wounds became infected.
Guiteau “is the optimist of the show, almost to like a narcissistic sense,” Gorman said, adding that his character feels like he can do anything while the others are stuck in a rut.
“That comes to a head once he confronts President James Garfield,” he said.
Gorman attends Salem State University in Massachusetts.
Watching “Assassins,” Brown said, is like watching “Titanic” and knowing how it will end but getting something out of it anyway.
“I’m hoping that the appeal is in supporting the local community theater,” Brown said. “I’m hoping that somebody that is in town, who loves the arts, will give community theater a chance.”
The set makes use of the entire house in a traverse stage, a first for the theater.
Audiences can bring food and drink to shows, and seating is cabaret-style. The theater opens an hour before show time.
“Assassins” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16-19 and 2 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Square Foot Theatre, 950 Yale Ave. Tickets are available at www.squarefoottheatre.com/tickets. The one-act show runs about 90 minutes.
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