Yard Theatre, London – until 28 June 2019
America’s gun epidemic is easy to criticise and ridicule from afar. But Americans, even those who oppose gun ownership, know that the firearms debate stems from deeply entrenched cultural mores and politics, and is also intertwined with class, regionalisms, race, money, and so on. In Sarah Kosar’s latest play, gun-obsessed Sam and her husband John are trying to quit their gun addictions when a local girl disappears, threatening their new, anti-weapon convictions. Cinematic lighting and sparse design heightens the nuanced script, and compelling performances support the story of one of many reasons why someone may want to own a gun.
It’s hard to blame Sam for wanting to protect herself when a thirteen-year-old goes missing, the same age Sam was when she was abducted from her home in small-town Pennsylvania. John tries to help her enforce their self-imposed ban on guns in the house, but Sam’s brother, local drug dealer Scotty, is happy to enable her insecurities.
Michelle Fox as Sam, Mark Quartley as John, and Nima Taleghani as Scotty constantly change alliances and their minds as a 24-hour news cycle unblinkingly focuses on the lengthening absence of the child. Tensions rise and fall as Sam comes to term with her past, Scotty may or may not have guns on him, and John wants Scotty off their couch. Some moments are dreamlike and surreal, others absurd, but all cling tightly to America’s complex love affair with the freedom to bear arms.
The cast is excellent, with Fox and Taleghani being the most emotionally demonstrative and volatie. Quartley is often sidelined, though his quiet strength provides stability and grounding. Director Sara Joyce harnesses the characters’ energy and moments of emotional chaos and turns them into a sharp, needling focus that captures the nuances of America’s attitudes towards guns. The incorporation of sudden loud noises and brightly-coloured lighting changes gives the piece more urgency and edge, and is a reminder that the world can shift under your feet with no notice.
This is a smart play, and a welcome one. British plays attempting to criticise America’s gun problem often come across as distant and condescending, but American Kosar shows that as awful as gun culture is, it is not a black and white issue – the association of guns with the need to protect ourselves and our loved ones runs deep.