Monday, May 2, 2016

On Assassins

I went to see a local production of Assassins, the 1990 Stephen Sondheim musical in which infamous presidential assassins and would-be assassins congregate across time to talk about their hopes to be a somebody. The actor John Wilkes Boothe, for Sondheim, was as motivated by racism as he was by "bad reviews." The beat is creepy, carnivalesque and at times outright joyful. Lynette Fromme, a name I would never have learned if not for this musical, belts out a soulful paean to Charles Manson. Sondheim loved South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. I can see why.

There's a problem with depicting insanity in fiction. It's an arbitrary state. An insane person can do anything, which offers the author very little constraint. But Assassins solves the problem. Sondheim's assassins are mad, but they are all defined by their time and their ugly vision of America, a country that destroys those who suffer from mediocrity, seems downright reasonable.  I heard the soundtrack before I went and was unimpressed, but the performance made it different. This is a musical that needs to be seen as much as heard. The closing number of the show, "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Happy" is hilarious. It adopts the language of American enterprise for the murderous psychopath set:

Got the right
To be happy.
Don't stay mad,
Life's not as bad
As it seems.

"If you keep your
Goal in sight,
You can climb to
Any height.
Got the right
to their dreams..."

At the moment, a major political party is on the verge of nominating the love child of George Wallace and Silvio Berlusconi. In a long piece today, Andrew Sullivan just broke his silence to call Trump a tyrant and call for non-democratic means to stop his rise. I've heard plenty of intelligent people tell me, not too quietly, "Aren't you just hoping someone kills that guy."

Well, if someone did, I'm sure there'd be many pages written trying to explain the motives and I'm sure they'd be complicated. There are plenty of people in my circle who would consider such a man perfectly sane. If Trump survived the attempt, I don't think he'd call his would-be assassin crazy. He'd call him a loser.

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