The Roustabouts Theatre Co: gUnTOPIA
I hesitate to write that Will Cooper’s gUnTOPIA opens with a bang, because, good grief, there’s obvious and then there’s obvious. But when a parent’s response to the shooting death of his daughter is to remind his son the shooter that there are rules against gunplayin the house, well, who’s to say? We’re through the looking glass here, people —another thing I wouldn’t write, except the play goes so far as to introduce a strange little girl named Alice and then has her actually read Lewis Carroll’s story of a topsy-turvy world, where stuff may seem crazy, but it’s mostly because you’re not from there.
So naturally, when the detective arrives to investigate the shooting, he wants to know if it was a clean kill, and Dad assures him, “Center mass. We’re very good parents.” So okay, we’re going after the alarming American tolerance for gun violence, and driving the point home by setting the show in something like the straightlaced ‘50s, where Father Knows Best, Mom just wants a baby, and schoolyard profanity is outrageous — “much worse than shooting.”
But Cooper means it when he writes in the program that this is not an advocacy play; nor is it simply an adventure in terrifying absurdity. Its sincerity and humanity are its saving graces, even if they’re mostly confined to Phil Johnson’s Harry. The rest of the capable cast simply has to hold steady —though wife Mary does start to crack under the strain of being married to a man in crisis. Harry gets two great turns here: the gradual encroachment of grief over the course of the show, and a fantastic paean to gun ownership, delivered as a lesson to his whiny son, but actually spoken as a reassuring creed in the face of crumbling faith. “Man could face his enemies with hope! The gun was life itself! It allowed freedom, trust, loyalty, mutual respect, enlightenment! When we shoot, we rise from barbarism to enlightenment!” But alas, there’s no sense in being sane when the whole world is crazy.
Ongoing until Sunday, April 2, 2023