FACE IT: Gun Control Hits The Stage
By Michele Willens
You know how, in your darkest and deepest thoughts, you wish those NRA-hugging members of Congress would be personally affected by gun violence? (Come on, admit it) Well, New York has a play for you.
Church & State, written by Jason Odell Williams, actually premiered at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles. Now, it has settled in at New World Stages off- Broadway for what could be a long and buzzy run. (It sold $15,000 in tickets before a single ad ran)
This four-character dark comedy (“Football is like God. I don’t need to see it to know it’s there.”) deals with a U.S. Senator from North Carolina who is facing certain re-election--- until his family comes perilously close to a Sandy Hook type incident. Then he not only questions his stand on guns, but the very existence of a religious entity that could allow one mentally challenged or vengeful person to take down a classroom of children.
Though only 75 minutes in length, Church & State covers a lot of ground, beginning with that politician brave enough to go off script and shock supporters. (“They don’t need my prayers, they need my actions.”) You might call it a liberal’s fantasy play, but have we ever needed one more?
Smartly, the producers are offering seats—and evenings—to progressive non-profits. (Planned Parenthood, Every Town For Gun Safety, Gays Against Gun Violence among others) The organizations will use the performances as fundraisers and information-spreaders, joining the play’s principals in post-show talkbacks. Already, famous names and gun safety advocates like Julianne Moore, have attended. It may not be the next Hamilton, but this one could continue to bring out the stars.
“People want to do something good right now,” says playwright Williams. “So why not come see a comedy drama about faith and politics? We consider it a conversation starter, something to begin the ripple, to help answer the question, ‘what can I do’?”
The people behind the production were, at first, concerned that if Donald Trump became president, it might hurt the show: after all, those who think like him had won and would likely not be seeking theatrical inspiration. “We thought who is going to want to see a play about politics,” says producer Charlotte Cohn. “Because of the results, it turned out a lot of people are looking for a way to get involved.--you see it at the Town Halls—and this is sort of a dramatic call to action.”
Church & State is not alone in this unique dilemma. The investors and creatives of an upcoming musical version of the film A Face In The Crowd were similarly concerned. Most will admit they wanted Hillary, but privately knew their story--which focuses on a charismatic, mean spirited man who woos a nation with a phony sense of populism—will resonate a lot more now. Likewise, Bryan Cranston is set to star in a stage version of Network, which, of course, is about a famous personality who whips a country into “mad as hell” fervor.
Suddenly, every show seems to take on new meaning. The Liar, adapted by David Ives, is about a man who literally cannot tell the truth. And it was written in the 17th century! Even when Glenn Close, as Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, walks down that staircase at the end, one can imagine the current president proclaiming, “I’m ready for my next reality show,” at some time in the future.
“Apathy is a four letter word. Every soul makes a difference,” announces a character in Church & State. If this smart, short play does nothing but move its audiences to sign a petition, send a check, or campaign against a gutless candidate, it deserves serious recognition. And gratitude.