What happens when respected playwrights like Lauren Gunderson and David Henry Hwang team up with 1st Stage to produce an online reading of seven plays written by teens from around the county focusing on gun violence and headlined by acclaimed local acting talents? On December 14, 2020, we found out. It was a profoundly moving and encouraging evening of 1st Stage’s Zoom production of “#Enough-Plays to End Gun Violence.” That date was chosen because it marked the 8th anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook.
Bravo to all the young playwrights for opening up their hearts and minds by reminding us about gun violence in this country.
Opening the dramatic readings of the ten-minute, one-acts was “Loaded Language” written by Elizabeth Shannon and directed by Alex Levy. The play featured Alex Reeves as Kiersa, Amanda Forstrom as J. J., Angeleaza Anderson-Shagnea as Amira, Jacob Yeh as Will and Patrick Joy as Logan. In this drama Shannon has us listen in as these teens tell us about their concerns about attending school during this age of mass shootings. (With so much happening in 2020, mass shootings have disappeared from the headlines. However, when schools reopen, it will most likely become an issue again, I am sad to say.) It explores the worrisome problems of easy access into schools, the need to locate safe spaces for times of emergency, and when is it the right time to tell if you suspect another student of plotting to hurt others. Finally, we are shown that kids everywhere have PTSD whether or not they have had an incident at their school.
“Malcolm” is by Debkanya Mitra and was directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes. The cast included Reeves as Driver, Forstrom as Sister, Joy as Bandmate and Lamann Rucker as College Friend. The story focuses on a young musician who travels the eastern seaboard in search of finding himself and joy through his music. Malcolm is a good person who enjoys his friends, loves his family, and looks for inner peace. But like many young black men, he becomes involved with the police at a time when it can be fatal for an African-American.
Adelaide Fisher is the playwright of “Ms. Martin’s Malaise,” also directed by Levy. Ms. Martin was portrayed by Forstrom, Maria by Anderson-Shagnea, Oscar by Joy, Fate 1 by Zoe Walpole, Fate 2 by Erica Dilworth and Fate 3 by Yeh. This presentation views school violence from the teacher’s perspective. The Fates are really the subconscious of Ms. Martin and talk to her throughout the play. The teacher has to decide how to deal with a student who is thought to have a gun. She confronts the student, Oscar, only to find out the real story behind the hidden gun. Both she and another student, Maria, have regrets about their decisions and vow to help others by starting a program in Oscar’s honor.
“Togetha” by Azya Lyons and directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes revolves around four good friends graduating high school — Aaliyah, Aiyanna, Cheyenne, and Imani played by Reeves, Anderson-Shagnea, Dilworth, and Temidayo Amay. As they chat and reminisce, like typical teens, both dreading and looking forward to the future, their life is shaken by an unexpected event that is common in many cities in this country — a drive-by shooting. Lyons gives us a chance to understand why this is always horrific and never acceptable.
“Hullabaloo” was the odd man out of the group. Drawing from the theater of the absurd, Sarah Schecter creates a circus or wild west show for the audience. Hunter (Joy) introduces himself as the ringmaster of the show. He and the other characters, Homer (Forstrom) and Mel (Amay) dance, juggle, dress up like clowns, crack whips, have gunslinger duels, and even do a Civil War reenactment. Schecter uses all this with the help of directors Levy and Starnes to spotlight the United States’ love affair with guns, no matter what the cost.
“Ghost Gun” by Olivia Ridley was a monologue given by Rucker as Black Boy under the direction of Starnes. The play’s plot shows Black Boy getting everyone’s attention when the people in the room think he is dangerous because he is holding a gun. Most of the time, he laments that he is invisible to America. It is only when he is feared that he gets noticed, symbolizing the treatment of black males in this country.
“Guns in Dragonland” by Eislinn Gracen finished out the night on a somber note, following the imaginary adventures of Lilah (Walpole) and her make-believe friend Toucan (Yeh), a dragon. Lilah looks for a new adventure to prove herself so she can get her own dragon wings. Fittingly on this anniversary of the deaths of so many very young innocents, it ends predictably and heartbreakingly.
After the program there was a discussion with Josh Horowitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Sean Perryman, former President of the Fairfax County NAACP and candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia. The discussion dealt with what we and our government can do about gun violence.
Bravo to all the young playwrights for opening up their hearts and minds by reminding us about gun violence in this country. Cheers to the wonderful actors who pulled this all off with only 45 minutes of rehearsal time. Special thanks to 1st Stage for bringing this to us in our homes as we wait out a different kind of scourge that plagues our country.
Running Time: Plays only – One hour and 10 minutes. With discussion – one hour and 30 minutes).
1st Stage is located at 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA 22102. To find out more about this group and their future productions go to their website.
Note: This production hit very close to home for this writer because her own son was shot and killed. She strongly believes everyone’s child needs to be protected from harm and that our government has been impotent by not enacting sensible gun laws that would protect our future. She participated in the March in Washington, D.C. against gun violence after the shooting at Parkland.