The world premiere of Stephanie Alison Walker’s new play, Friends With Guns, now in production at The Road Theatre Company, could not be timelier. With the horror of the latest mass murder in New Zealand reverberating around the globe, the issues on the subject of gun laws, gun ownership, and gun proliferation are once more starkly before us. The wild rhetoric that spews forth on both sides of the issue, from the extremes of banning guns entirely to Charlton Heston’s famed utterance, “from my cold, dead hands,” fuels the proverbial, emotional powder keg. Ms. Walker humanizes the dispute by focusing on two Los Angeles couples that are neighbors.
Found alone onstage and shouting at lights up, Shannon (splendid, winsome Kate Huffman), delivers an hilarious, tour de force monologue as an exhausted playground mother, who desperately tries to control her two very young children. She is soon joined by Leah (calm, reasonable Arianna Ortiz), also a mother with twin boys, and an infant girl swaddled to her chest. As women stereotypically seem to do, they find commonalities and become friends. At home, Shannon tells her husband, Josh (tall, loving Brian Graves) of her new friend who lives close by. Josh, a good husband and a die-hard liberal who cheerfully folds laundry, is unhappy in his job, while Shannon seems to be doing well in real estate.
The two couples join for dinner at Leah’s place, where her husband, Danny (charismatic Christian Telesmar) and Josh hit it off over a common love of baseball and other topics of masculine interest. So far the play is solidly in sit-com land, but then the topic of guns comes up to give credence to the title of the play. Danny and Leah are unapologetic gun owners. Danny presents himself as a responsible guy who keeps his weapons in a safe. Leah tells how she grew up with guns on the family farm in Montana. Josh and Shannon are horrified that they have guns in a house where there are children. The promising friendship seems to be crashing on the rocks of mutual intolerance. Josh wants nothing more to do with Leah and Danny, while Shannon’s friendship with Leah grows stronger and the sunny comedy turns dark.
Friends with Guns is no facile or polemic piece of theatre; rather it shows flaws in the knee-jerk thought of some liberals regarding the issue of guns. In that way, the play comes down hard on certain extreme anti-gun notions, while leaving untouched, save for a slide show near the climax of the play, the very real horror of the damage done, with New Zealand the latest example. Friends With Guns is one of those plays that will prompt discussion on the way home from the theatre; at least it did in this audience member’s car ride.
Under the detailed, fast-paced direction of Randee Trabitz, the ensemble cast delivers finely etched characters of considerable, compelling emotion, who rocket to a climax without dénouement.
Mounted in The Road’s terrific, tiered, Magnolia Avenue venue, the production boasts a fine minimalist scenic design by Stephen Gifford, which is lit with sensitivity by Derrick McDaniel. Rounding out the creative staff is David B. Marling, sound design; Michele Young, costume design; Heath Harper, properties design; and Jen Albert fight director/armorer. Erick Marquez manages the production with aplomb.
Friends With Guns, produced by Michelle Gillette, Chet Grissom and Susie Lever, is extending through May 11 at The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood.