Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fringe 2018 - Review - Gunplay - 5 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 9 - Gunplay - A sharp satirical musical with an ensemble full of great performers and a lot of laughs. If only the real gun lobbyists were as easy to defeat as the ones in this play - 5 stars

Let’s just stipulate going into this review that Tom Reed is more talented than most people you’re going to meet in the regular course of your days.  He can write, he can sing, he can act, he can direct, he’s a skilled improviser, he’s funnier, cuter and just all around nicer as a person than he probably has any right to be.  He makes most of the rest of us look bad (and he probably feels bad about that, but the guy can’t help it).  And his latest Fringe show Gunplay is a real step forward for him artistically.  He’s not parodying anyone else’s pre-existing work, he’s not doing his improvisational comedy lounge act (not that those shows aren’t great, they are, I’ve enjoyed all of them in many a Fringe).  But this time, with Gunplay, he’s written a musical play for an ensemble cast, assembled a great set of performers and directed a really solid, entertaining, non-stop funny overall production.

“As you know, everything everywhere’s awful - and tonight is part of that.”

In the world of Gunplay, naive Anders (Reed) is hired by the National Machine Gun Association to help spearhead their latest initiative - an active shooter drill musical for high schools.  The gun lobby will subsidize the rest of the school year’s budget for the theater department if the school has the kids perform the active shooter drill musical first.  One school strapped for cash takes the lobbyists up on their offer.  Drama teacher Laura (Adelin Phelps) gets her musical theater kids to play along, despite all her better instincts to the contrary.  The kids are portrayed by Austen Fisher (who also composed the music for the show, and plays the keyboard), Meredith Casey (who also did the choreography), Karina Strom, Matthew Englund, and the always fabulous Lauren Anderson (who also plays the school principal and the head of the gun lobby).  In fact, everyone other than Reed and Phelps plays multiple supporting characters in the story.  Romance blossoms between Anders and Laura, of course, and soon Anders is on a collision course between his job and his conscience.

“Oh my god, I’m saying terrible things to strangers on escalators.”

Gunplay is hilarious.  The awkward romance between Anders and Laura is also very sweet.  The musical numbers are satirical gold.  So what’s my problem with Gunplay?  I gave the show five stars.  I don’t take it back.  It earned them.  The problem here is clearly mine and not the play’s.  I want the play to be something that it’s not trying to be.  I can’t hold that against GunplayGunplay is absolutely fine as far as it goes.  Part of me just wishes it went further.

“I once was in a production of The Vagina Monologues with four guys.”

The gun lobbyist characters are clearly ludicrous, over the top caricatures.  They’re also easily defeated in the play’s final minutes.  We never once take anything about their point of view seriously.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly enormously relieved that there was never actually a live shooter in the high school and that everyone didn’t die in a hail of gunfire and stage blood at the end.  There was a part of me that was waiting for it.  Also, I’m taking too much of the outside world into the theater with me.  All these kids are white, or at least present as white.  No one here in this play is worried about accidentally getting shot by the cops.  Hell, that’s a whole other play.

“There are some problems you can’t masturbate your way out of.”
“I’ve tried.”

I don’t know how I’d write a play about guns or gun violence.  Gunplay, because of Tom Reed, is the only play with the word gun in the title (about the subject of guns) that I’d ever willingly go see.  Honestly, we need some escapist entertainment that also still makes us think about complicated issues bedeviling society. Maybe we need the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose, and the bad guys to be ridiculous, just so we can let off some steam.  That’s what Gunplay does.  Maybe that’s all it needs to do.

But it does make me super curious what Tom Reed’s up to next.

Go see Gunplay.  We all deserve a break from our current reality.  I’ll try to relax.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Here's some handy links to reviews of 5 Star Shows, 4.5 Star Shows, 4 Star Shows, 3 Star Shows, and my full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

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