When composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer John Weidman look at assassins, their vision is wayward, tough, ambiguous, sympathetic and bitterly satiric. They see people desperate and unhappy enough to embrace the quick and easy solution that never works. The figures they show us — John Wilkes Booth (Christopher Davis Carlisle); Lee Harvey Oswald (a memorable Shannon Stoeke); John Hinckley (David Nadeau); Squeaky Fromme (Darrin Revitz); Leon Czolgosz (Larry Lederman), who shot President Garfield; Giuseppe Zangara (Jim Holdridge), whose stomach ulcers drove him to shoot at FDR (he mortally wounded the mayor of Chicago instead) — are all people with a grievance, and the need to blame somebody else. Assassins still shocks, particularly when it deals with the death of JFK: A song called “Something Just Broke” deftly sums up the national response. Songs and scenes are inextricably woven together, though Sondheim reminds us of his ability to craft catchy tunes when the need arises. Overall, the piece mercilessly insists that we confront the issues it raises. Richard Israel’s on-target production is stark and lively; Johanna Kent’s music direction is sure-footed, and the entire cast is splendid. Stephen Gifford’s clever and flexible set — a series of revolving panels of weathered wood — and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s period costumes richly evoke the passing years. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m., thru Aug. 31. (323) 460-4443 or www.westcoastensemble.org. A West Coast Ensemble Production.—Neal Weaver

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