The Pen and the Trigger Finger: Examining Gun Violence Onstage

On stage after stage lately, playwrights have been confronting such fears about gun violence, adding their works to a genre that has blossomed like a furious bruise in recent years.

No single work encompasses the enormous scope of the issue. Yet together they tell a story that demands our willingness to listen, and to listen again.

No Screen to Separate Us

Cite the numbers, and the problem instantly becomes too vast to grasp: More than 33,000 people killed and upward of 78,000 wounded by firearms each year in the United States, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Most of those aren’t going to make the news, and unless they are especially heinous or close to home, aren’t we a little inured to the ones that do?

This is where the stealthy power of theater has an advantage, at least theoretically. There are dramas involving shootings in schools (“Punk Rock,” “The Faculty Room,” “The Library”) and workplaces (“Gloria”); attacks spurred by politics (“The Events”), racism (“Mother Emanuel”) or mental illness (“Holden”).

There are plays focused on bystanders for whom gun killings are an everyday trauma (“Pass Over”) or a surreal aberration (“When It’s You”). Other shows are some combination of the above (“On the Exhale,” “Church & State,” “The Assignment”).

News reports arrive after the fact, but theater can meddle with time and dimension, showing us the before, the during, the yet to come — as in Nathan Yungerberg’s “Esai’s Table,” which trails three black teenagers just past the threshold of the afterlife, where we come to understand what their needless, unwilling absence from the world will mean.

Photo

Hampton Fluker, left, and Eden Marryshow in “Esai’s Table.”

Credit
Da Ping Luo …

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