The Gun Show by EM Lewis
Review by Bill Garry
Playwright EM Lewis tells a moving, personal story about growing up with, and being bitten by, guns in "The Gun Show," her one-person show now running in Los Angeles. The evening is set up like a community meeting, with a bare stage and a lectern at center. The main character is EM Lewis herself, an Oregon farm girl "who grew up with a 22 leaning by the back door."
After some movie references and jokey statistics that gain the audience's confidence, the subject gets personal. A box of props -- the playwright's personal memorabilia -- connects us to real people and real actions. The writer's sweet descriptions of falling in love-- with her husband and her first pistol -- are engaging. Later on, the devastating consequences of that love -- and of America's love affair with guns -- takes us down with sniper-like precision.
What I haven't told you is that the part of EM Lewis is played by Chuma Gault, a black man. Mr. Gault, right at the start, holds up a picture of Ms. Lewis and tells the audience that he represents her.
Chuma Gault is a charismatic actor with vulnerable eyes and a natural ease. But the conceit of using a big black man to play a country woman took me out of the story. When Mr. Gault holds up a picture of his country house in Oregon, or describes being held in the arms of Ms. Lewis's future husband, I checked out.
To be fair, the cultural conversation about violence in America has shifted since the show opened on November 1. I saw the show after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury results were made public.
What this did was add a new layer of meaning to the show, a layer that needed to be addressed. When Mr. Gault (as Ms. Lewis) described an encounter with a macho policeman at New York's Penn Station, I checked out again. (I thought to myself, how lucky he was to be a white woman! Then I began to imagine how it might have gone down if he was himself.) The casting of the show created its own elephant in the room.
Another conceit of the show is that it is a community meeting with an audience that has shown up to learn about gun control. Mr. Gault (again, as Ms. Lewis) jokes with audience members, singling some out and asking questions (without expecting any answers.) This also took me out of the story, as how could an actor playing a woman so different from himself authentically rap with the audience?
When the show premiered in Chicago, Ms. Lewis was played by a Latino man. The show is moving to Trenton, NJ (a community with a large population of African-American residents) in 2015 with a new cast and director.
Ms. Lewis has written a show that could tear out our hearts. But it is delivered second hand.
A few performances of this award winning show remain.
Thursday, December 11 at 8 PM (ADDED PERFORMANCE!)
Saturday, December 13 at 5 PM (SOLD OUT!)
Sunday, December 14 at 5 PM
Moving Arts - Hyperion Station
1822 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90027
Top Photo by Juan Luis Garcia
Productions stills by Cece Tio