At the Road on Magnolia, Friends with Guns is Not About Guns

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Although playwright Stephanie Alison Walker spends a lot of time parsing the basic argument, pro and con, over gun ownership, the topic proves to be a convenient spring-board for an even deeper concern: empowerment. I’m sure my observation will come as a surprise to most audience members. But as I watched the play unspool, the situation came to seem terribly familiar and then I realized… But I’ll leave that for the moment.

Shannon (Kate Huffman) meets new neighbor Leah (Arianna Ortiz), and the two get along immediately. Shannon admires Leah’s decisive approach to motherhood and wants to bring their husbands together to complete the picture. Leah suggests a dinner with her husband, Danny (Christian Telesmar), for Shannon and Josh (Brian Graves). All goes well until the subject of gun ownership comes up.  Josh seems to be the one who determines the family’s thinking on the subject, but Shannon is on the fence. Her curiosity and admiration for Leah brings her to the shooting range. What ensues may determine the fate of their marriage.

Walker does not present an evenly reasoned argument, but she lets the characters play out this red-hot issue based on their own prejudices. Significantly, though, Shannon’s conversion to guns becomes the symbol of her own self-empowerment quite aside from the subject itself. In this, the faint outline of another tale arises: one can hear echoes of Nora and Helmar’s marriage in Shannon and Josh’s dialogue.

Director Randee Trabitz orchestrates the two couples’ well-tuned debates with precision; so much so, that it is easy to get lost in the issue without observing the detail that has gone into the technical aspects of the production. The Road’s custom-made theatre on Magnolia accommodates Stephen Gifford’s simple design augmented by Derrick McDaniel’s lighting and Michèle Young’s wardrobe choices. Jen Albert handles the all important fight choreography, while David B. Marling’s nuanced sound –  remember those guns? – are just the right decibel.

In my opinion, the shocking ending of Friends with Guns takes on meaning depending on a spectator’s ideology. Suffice it to say, it’s well worth the journey to observe four well-rounded characters trying to make sense of a complicated social problem.

The Road Theatre Company on Magnolia performs Friends with Guns Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm through May 4th , 2019. All seats, $34.00. Phone (818 761-8838 or online at www.roadtheatre.org.