By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
I’m in a little bit of quandary about this review of The Gun Show (Can we talk about this?), the latest offering from Quantum Theatre. Let me say up front that there wasn’t a moment of its 60 minutes that I wasn’t right there in the middle of the experience. And all the elements of the production were, as per Quantum’s usual standards, absolutely top drawer.
My quandary is that The Gun Show isn’t really theater. Although it isn’t not theater, either. It’s sort of a TED Talk … with gestures.
The Gun Show runs through March 3 at various locations. 412/362-1713. quantumtheatre.com
Let me explain. Playwright EM Lewis has written an hour-long monologue comprising five stories from her past about her relationship with guns and, in between, some observations regarding America’s gun culture. Perhaps Lewis’ most theatrical choice is that while the “script” is written in the first person she sits in the audience while an actor onstage plays her reading her words. That actor is usually a man – and here it’s Andrew William Smith.
Smith is playing Lewis with no attempt at “female” physicality … although he does refer to himself as a woman since Lewis is a woman. Occasionally Smith, as Lewis, confronts the actual Lewis in the house. Apparently Lewis has done this at most every performance around the country. (As someone who often finds himself sitting in the audience watching the same show over and over again … welcome to the club, sister!)
Smith has an open script from which he will read stage directions – though it’s not clear if he’s reading them as the actor Smith or the writer Lewis. And so maybe all this “meta-theater” stuff is a Brechtian device to keep us from getting lost in the emotion of the stories. I’m not sure but it’s definitely something I’ve not seen before.
But after the first five minutes you don’t even notice it and soon you realize the rest of the evening is a discourse on the gun control debate.
When all’s said and done The Gun Show isn’t a show, but a highly personalized lecture; One of the five stories is a devastating experience from Lewis’ past and Smith’s retelling is heart stopping but even though director Sheila McKenna brings a fierce intelligence and laser-sharp focus to the 60 minutes, … it’s still a lecture.
And that is – in absolutely no way – a bad thing. I’m just not sure where it leaves me. A review focusing on the theatricality misses the bigger point. The worth of The Gun Show isn’t what some theater critic thinks and, on the flip side, I don’t think a theater review is a place for a debate on guns.
I will say, from a playwriting view, that Lewis’ essential conceit fueling the evening is, let’s call it, naïve and plays havoc with her dramaturgical aim. She gives the piece a subtitle “Can we talk about this?” and frames the work as trying to find common ground between opposing viewpoints. An admirable idea, certainly. But she trips herself up by defining those viewpoints as “No gun control at all!” vs. “All guns should be illegal!”
Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Not one piece of “gun control” legislation was ever written to make all guns illegal for everyone. The reality of this debate is one side attempting to pass “sensible gun law reform” vs. Second Amendment absolutists funded by arms trade groups which have terrified people into thinking that passing one law is the same as banning all guns. By using this NRA scare tactic as the basis for the piece it sort of negates her subtitle. That’s just not a “talk” I care to have.
And I just bet that last paragraph has got a few of you hoppin’ mad. Which just brings us back to my quandary … which I still haven’t figured out.