HAZLETON —Charles Guiteau didn’t get that job he wanted as ambassador to France.
John Wilkes Booth was angry about the Civil War.
Guiseppe Zangara reportedly had a stomach ache.
As sane people would point out, those were not good reasons for Guiteau to shoot President James Garfield in 1881, Booth to shoot Abraham Lincoln in 1885 or Zangara to take aim at President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933.
“It doesn’t excuse or justify what they did,” said Keith Junas of Hazleton, who portrays Lee Harvey Oswald in the Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts production of “Assassins” June 17-26 at the J.J. Ferrara Center in Hazleton.
Still, Junas said, “You start to feel sympathy (for your character). You just sort of ‘get it.’ “
The show, which introduces audiences to nine killers and would-be killers, can be disturbing, director Adam Randis said, but audiences will likely find it thought-provoking.
And, fans of Stephen Sondheim will appreciate his music, which the show presents Vaudeville style.
“The music from 1901 sounds like it’s from ‘Oklahoma.’ There’s a folksy ballad for John Wilkes Booth and a disco duet for the people who tried to assassinate (President Ronald) Reagan and (President Gerald) Ford,” Randis said.
Sondheim’s music is so captivating, actor Isaac J. Conner said, it’s a big part of why he’s willing to drive 70 miles from Williamsport for rehearsals.
Conner portrays anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901. Before a rehearsal earlier this week, ensemble member Kendall Sosar of Hazleton touched up the make-up on Conner’s arm. The homemade concoction, made with non-flavored gelatin, suggests scars, a reminder of burns Czolgosz suffered at the bottle factory where he worked.
It seems as if the American Dream didn’t work out for the assassins, Randis said, which may have led them to one of two bitter conclusions: “If you don’t succeed, it’s your fault. Or, if you don’t succeed, the dream was a lie.”
In the play’s climax, the other assassins surround Lee Harvey Oswald, trying to convince him to take aim at President John F. Kennedy.
“We need Lee Harvey Oswald to make us relevant,” said Colin Scott, who portrays John Wilkes Booth.
“All you ever wanted,” Booth tells Oswald, sounding as if he understands, “was for someone to pay attention.”
But, does paying attention to murderers spawn more violence?
“You have to know history so you don’t repeat it,” Sosar said, maintaining it’s important to learn about such events.
With the production opening less than one week after a gunman killed 49 people at an Orlando night club, Randis said, the show will be dedicated to the memory of the victims.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
Who: Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts
Where: J.J. Ferrara Center, 212 West Broad St., Hazleton
When: Continues 7 p.m. June 24-25 and 3 p.m. June 26. Dinner is served 90 minutes before curtain.