BWW Review: CoHo Productions' THE GUN SHOW Challenges Us to Have a Reasonable Conversation About a Divisive Issue
"Something happened 13 years ago." That's the first line of E.M. Lewis's stunning one-person play THE GUN SHOW, and from the moment Vin Shambry says it until a little over an hour later when he takes his bow, you should be prepared to laugh, cry, sing, and maybe, just maybe, change your perspective on guns.
Yes, that's a lot to ask. Especially given where we're starting, which is a point of no conversation at all, just a lot of yelling from both gun rights advocates and gun control advocates. But Lewis asks it of us, and after seeing THE GUN SHOW, I think anyone would be hard pressed not to at least try.
THE GUN SHOW is a narrative woven around five stories. True stories from Lewis's life growing up in rural Oregon -- where everyone has guns. Stories of enjoying movies like Reservoir Dogs, of learning to shoot, of being held up at gunpoint while working at a bookstore, of interacting with an aggressive cop in a New York City train station. And another story, which Lewis didn't tell for many years, and which you'll have to see the play to hear.
These are personal stories of a woman who has a lot of experience with guns, who understands both their appeal and their danger, and who, because she sees both sides, feels stuck in the middle. She doesn't ask us to support one side or the other. She simply asks to think about both of them and realize that there is a lot of room in the chasm between open carry laws and banning guns entirely.
Vin Shambry" bheight="240" src="https://newimages.bwwstatic.com/upload11/1420411/files/28605430126_402f33a948_m.jpg" align="left" width="159" />Although the stories are Lewis's, the play is performed by Vin Shambry, a multi-Drammy Award winner and recently voted Portland's Best Actor in Willamette Weekly's reader's poll. He's also African American, which adds depth to the production as it invites us to consider the impact of guns on the lives of the many different types of people who make up our country.
I really can't say enough about Shambry's performance. He leads you through Lewis's stories in such a natural way that at times you can imagine that the thoughts and feelings, if not the words, are his. Although you're sitting in a theatre with the house lights down, it doesn't feel like there's a wall between performer and audience. And although you don't say anything (though you might sing), it feels more like a conversation than a monologue. Adding to the poignancy is the fact that Lewis herself is sitting in the audience -- you can't get much more intimate than that.
This is a powerful show, an important show, and a show everyone should see -- regardless of what side of the issue you come down on. Plan to stay afterward for the Gun Talk, which is a first step toward continuing the conversation.
THE GUN SHOW runs through October 1 at CoHo Productions. Get your tickets here before you lose your chance.
Photo credit: Owen Carey