As the house lights dim we hear ominous electronic music, the curtain raises on the 3 room setting of the 12th floor/penthouse office of Dr. Conrad Bering. The building is undergoing renovation and is therefore shabby about the edges. We see (moving from SR to SL) the elevator lobby including an open elevator shaft blocked by yellow safety tape, the outer office with couch, chairs, etc. and the inner office with desk, computer, a day bed and a glimpse of a back hallway. It's a dark and stormy night...
The first two people we meet are Martin Chisholm (John Rubinstein) a political consultant and probable next mayor of NYC, and Dossie Lustig (Christine Ebersole) a cocktail hostess, wearing a skimpy dress and flirting shamlessly with Martin, the newest member of her therapy group (replacing a member who was so lazy she just stopped coming). They enter the office (info provided: only members of the group have keys to the office and elevator), Martin hangs up his coat, breaking a hook off the coat-rack. Info on the building being repaired, "it's all falling apart", the rest of the building is abandoned, blah, blah, blah. Eventually other members of the group show up: Pamela Prideux (Kandis Chappell) a rich society matron who "accidently" shot her husband; Vassili Laimorgos (Josh Mostel) an overeating Greek; Gregory Reed (Terrance Mann) the Donald Trumpish owner of the building (He scares everyone by appearing on the landing outside the window of the inner office having climbed the fire escape during one of the periodic blackouts); Dan Gerard (Frankie R. Faison) an African-American cop, suspended after botching a mission resulting in the deaths of fellow officers; and Nam-Jun Vuong (Jodi Long) a whiny Asian-American academic who feels constantly put-upon. Nobody likes each other very much and there is a lot of verbal jabbing and nastiness amongst the group.
There is a lot of exposition on people's background and "gee where's the doctor, it's late". There are several prominent digital clocks on the set. The time is about 8-8:15pm. There is also discussion of safety at night (why people take cabs) including mention of a recent murder of a woman in Central Park. At some point Dossie thinks she sees figures moving about out on the fire escape. Through the window we see the now infamous gargoyle.
Interspersed amongst this are brief flashes of scenes downstage showing a "Young Man" (William Ragsdale) and a woman he picks up in a bar, her name is Charmaine (Michelle Hurd). Eventually we see the young man kill Charmaine in a fit of passion after there fun getting high in Central Park goes too far. We then see him talking to some unseen person, "Nothing I did was every good enough for you". Later we see him take an overdose of pills/alcohol, call Dr. Bering's office asking for help, and then die. An obscured figure discovers him.
Meanwhile back in the office... at some point the set revolves and we see the lifeless hand of Dr. Bering (Herb Foster) dangling from the upstage sofa. Eventually this is discovered by the group who decided that to avoid scandal (since several of them have prominent names in society/politics) they will figure out the murder themselves. Only people with a key could have entered the office, it has to be one of them. Based on the Doctor's schedule the murder had to happen between 7:00pm (the end of Dossie's private appt) and 8:00pm when Dossie and Martin arrived.
The cop Dan takes over the investigation asking everyone where they were, etc. Dossie seems to have some gaps in her story but nothing conclusive. In questioning Martin the group is surprised to learn he was invited to join the group after only one or two private sessions. All the others were recommended by their private doctors and only allowed to join after many private sessions.
There are also several phone calls received by Dr. Bering's answering machine. From his wife (uncredited voice of Mia Farrow) the other from the Doctor who recommended the new patient (uncredited voice of George Furth).
Eventually the audience begins to piece together what happened. The downstage events with the young man are flashbacks, not events happening simultaneous with the office action as we believe in the beginning. The Young Man is Martin's son. When Martin is asked to tell where he was before the group meeting we see his story acted out, the rest of the cast freeze.
The clocks jump back to approx 7:35-40. Martin is knocking on the door of the office (having been allowed in by the doorman downstairs who has an extra key). Dr. Bering has been interrupted in a liaison with an unseen woman on his couch. She is let out through the back door, that is only opened by an electric buzzer. Martin wants to talk about his son but the Dr. won't give him the info he wants (has the son confessed the murder). In a fit of anger Martin grabs one of several silver figurines off a table and bashes the doctor's head in. The doctor lands on the couch, Martin covers him and puts the figure in his raincoat pocket. He is backing out of the office and has just reached the elevator lobby, closing the outer office door when Dossie surprises him. She thinks he was just arriving, trying to open the door. We see their conversation again, realizing that the coatrack broke because of the heavy figure in Marin's pocket. They eventually retake their places within the group. (This was all wonderfully staged, IMO). Once Martin has returned from his memory and the other actors reanimate he decides not to tell them his story and instead walks over to where Dan had placed his police gun on a side table. Martin picks it up and shoots everyone dead.
End of Act One... I'm not making this up, you know!
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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