by Rick Hoover
I believe I have discovered a secret link between two of Steve's most recent works which will revitalize the interest and secure a long performing future for them! Here it is, complete with scholarly colons:
Premise: ASSASSINS and PASSION are two parts of the same work! They both address the problem of being loved, appreciated, noticed if you are an outsider or different from what people find acceptable. [I know recently others have identified this as a theme in ALL of Steve's work but admitting this tends to take the air out of my proposition so I'll just ignore it for now.]
Note the parallel treatments and diverging solutions in the two "acts" of the combined work:
In Act One, ASSASSINS, the answer to this craving for love is to grab power over a person and then kill them. The result: you die still unsatisfied and villified.
In Act Two, PASSION, the answer to this craving for love is to yield all power over the person. The result: you'll still die but at peace and adored. [Well, we know Steve has an ironic take on life!]
And as he frequently does, Steve telegraphs the essence of the work in the very first lines of dialog:
Czolgosz: "Give me..." [or I'll cause others to die.] Clara: "What would you do if I died like this, right now, in your arms?" [I'll die from the happiness of yielding but my focus remains on you.
[No doubt there is the gamesman's significant use of names beginning with the letter C..."see? see?"]
In ASSASSINS Booth tries to make the case for his approach by pointing out that a high school drop-out laborer knows the name of the man who assassinated Julius Caesar two thousand years ago.
But we could also ask ourselves the names linked in history with King David, Cleopatra, Peter Abelard, Lancelot, Romeo, Robert Browning... even George Burns. Thanks to the gifts of SS we can now also add the name Fosca to this list.
Which list would you rather be a part of?
Booth invalidates his own position re assassination being different from murder with the final act of firing into an audience which no doubt contains its share of shop keepers and adulterers.
Prior to this he calls to the "assassins" in the audience and is answered by those who kill non-presidential victims, including Middle Eastern terrorists who target children. Booth has not changed. "It didn't mean a nickel, you just shed a little blood."
Fosca has her choices validated in the end with the discovery that she herself has been changed. "Things I feared, like the world itself, I now love dearly."
Booth, as the prime exemplar of the assassin, desperately wants people to hear what he has to say. He is so rigidly focused on himself he refuses to listen to others and heed David Herrold's warning.
Fosca, by contrast, gives up forcing _her_ message on Giorgio and instead focuses exclusively on _his_, even when it is a message critical of herself. It is this unwavering focus that eventually turns him to her.
In ASSASSINS the various characters have assumed the truth of a great premise of liberal governing policy today: everyone has a right to be happy, to have the prize they want granted to them, and be as different as they wish without judgement or penalty. It is Sondheim's brilliance to force the audience to face the implication of such a view by putting it into these mouths.
In America the governing principle in the founding documents is not that you have a right to be happy; what you have is a right to pursue it. No guarantees are suggested as to your success in finding it. Because the assassins have misguidedly assumed otherwise they are doomed to frustration, believing America-as-they-presumed-it-was is bullshit. The error is not America's.
Thus the frightening conclusion of ASSASSINS: we sit helpless before these people who have shut their ears to any message or decision but their own. They say "everyone has the right to be happy" but proceed to deny any chance of it to everyone around them. Their extremism in resorting to the power of the gun precludes any response from society but self-preserving gunfire in return. The audience, longing for a more compassionate response, squirms.
The assassins sing "make em holler, grab em by the collar." Passion begins with that very holler by the collar, an approach Giorgio welcomes from Clara. But he is terrified by the same passion from Fosca. When she sees her efforts to force her will on him only make him squirm, she reconsiders her approach. Fosca's choice to accept her beloved's decision is what results in his change of heart.
The strong feelings the audience naturally has to reject the assassins at the end of act one makes them desperate for an answer to the question of alienation. Thus they are willing to accept the otherwise unusual lack of irony in the presentation of PASSION.
Consider the other advantages that flow from my discovery: now Steve will get two royalties for the performance of a "single" work! And there's the repeat business from those who slap themselves in the head and say, "Now I've got to go back and see those two musicals TOGETHER!" Also, didn't a lot of people think these two musicals were a bit on the short side in their original productions? Now we know why!
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