This Thursday evening we go see The Stray Cat production of Sondheim’s ‘Assassins’. It is our first Stray Cat show in many years; it will be cheery to attend.* However, The Stray Cat doesn’t put on cheery shows and “Assassins'” is no exception. For thems unfamiliar with this musical, it is about the men and women who shot or attempted to shoot U.S. Presidents. I like history and psychology so it is fascinating to try to understand why someone would want to kill one.

Over time thems that shoot sovereigns transform into clichés and legends; it is hard to know who they really were and their motives. My ‘favorite” (if that is the right word) is Charles j Guiteau who shot and killed President Garfield. Neither man got into the national muscle memory like Mr. Booth or Mr. Oswald. This is probably because Mr. G and President G were sort of bland and the scene of the shooting was ‘tame’ and the latter fellow sort of languished and died in a relatively quiet way. No public spectacle was involved. No fun this.

I suppose my interest in Mr. Guiteau’s case is because by modern accounts he was more than a little nuts. He wasn’t driven by political beliefs or economic matters like some of the others, he was driven mostly by delusional thinking he had greatly contributed to Garfield’s election and was therefore owed a political payback in a job. When this sensibly did not happen, he figured to save his political party, Garfield had to go. He wasn’t tried as a lunatic but as a political anarchist and was hanged.

In tonight’s play as Mr. Guiteau mounts the scaffold he sings a slightly deranged song full of grandiose delusional religious zeal “I am going to the Lordy”:

“Charlie said hell, if I am guilty than G-d is as well.
But G-d was acquitted and Charlie committed, to hang”

I never know whether to laugh or cry to see this. Religiousity combined with paranoia makes for some of the worse tragedies of mankind* but it does have its dark humor. If you are going to make a musical about killers one has to include some farce to make the lunacy bearable.

In hindsight Charles G would have been not judged not guilty by reasons of insanity and locked up and President Garfield wouldn’t have died given modern surgery and antibiotics. The real tragedy is this stuff keeps happening as there are always inspired zealots with access to guns to keep on the tradition of taking pot-shots at presidents. It’s all rather sad.

* Hong Kiuquan comes to mind here. Oh the horror.

*The odds are good both of us will fall asleep before the first number. Oh the embarrassment.