Friends with Guns by Stephanie Alison Walker, Uprising Theater's newest production currently playing at the Off LeashArt Box is a thoughtful and nuanced play about guns, female empowerment and reaching across the ideological divide. Early on in the play I was worried that it was going to be a kind of play that I hate - a play that through conversation between characters essentially lectures to the audience about a certain topic for two hours. But this play, which is currently in its rolling world premiere (it also played The Road Theatre and is soon to open at Chapel Theatre Collective) is so far away from that.
At its center are two couples Shannon (Jen Scott) and Josh (Tony Larkin) and Leah (Jess Grams) and Danny (Dante Pirtle), California liberals and parents with young children who are over the moon to find that they mesh and their children get along. Upon their first couple meeting everything is going great, they are sharing stories and planning for future date nights and vacations. Until the truth comes out Leah and Danny are gun people and Shannon and Josh are NOT. The two families friendships fall apart but Leah and Shannon remain close friends. It isn't long until their yoga class turns into a trip to the shooting range which leads to a new sense of empowerment for Leah. This sense of empowerment, although positive for her career and personal confidence takes her husband Josh by surprise who doesn't quite know what to make of his new wife and begins to spiral and lose control.
From watching the play you could be lead to believe that is a pro gun play. Between the two couples Leah and Danny who have 11 guns locked in a safe in their garage come across by far as the more reasonable couple. However the scene transitions are filled with audio from news reports of mass shootings and other gun related deaths which when put together with the story being told paints nuanced picture which thoughtfully matches the political issue at hand with a deftness that only art can portray. It is also not only a show about guns, but it is also largely a show about female empowerment. It has been a while that I have felt so connected to some of the words being spoken on stage. Exploring the ways that women are socialized to feel fear all the time, what it is like to live with that and how to break away from it.
Uprising Theater theater on top of putting on well chosen thought provoking shows also do a fantastic job of providing context through partnering with community organizations. The community organization the day when I was at the show was Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. They have tabling materials in the lobby before the show and during intermission and also take part in a post play discussion. Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the post play discussion on Saturday afternoon but based on the audiences reactions during the show I am sure it was a fascinating discussion.
Friends with Guns is playing at the Off Leash Art box through October 5th. Click here for more information and how to get tickets. It paints the gun debate in a way that I have never seen before, and is a show worth seeing for people on both sides of the debate.
*Photo Credit Shannon Kearns