I live on the East Coast, in a large city. I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton. I make my living as a theatre artist and educator. I have never owned, nor even fired, a gun.
That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about our country’s gun violence epidemic. Unfortunately our national discourse has, for years, framed the issue of gun control into rigid binaries: the rural, gun-owning, truck-driving American who wants to defend his constitutional right to possess and use firearms versus the city-dwelling, bike-riding, coastal elitist who wants to take all the guns away.
That these stereotypes lack any nuanced understanding of a complex issue seems almost beside the point; they’re effective, so much so that framing them this way has prevented us from productive attempts to curtail the problem. Our gun violence problem is, in part, a toxic masculinity problem, a domestic violence problem, and a suicide awareness problem. It is also a gun control problem, the issue at the heart of the hyper-partisan framing that falsely pits responsible gun owners against those merely seeking reasonable regulations.
Against this distinctly American backdrop, where attempts to curb the death toll are so often met with blunt-force opposition, where can we find space for the necessary complexity surrounding the issue? Enter playwrights. Like millions of Americans, they are angry, and they reject many of the ways we have traditionally framed the debate.
“I’m not interested in writing a play about gun control,” says Jennifer Barclay, whose Ripe Frenzy is being produced around the country this season as part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere. It will next play at Synchronicity Theatre in Atlanta (April 13-May 6), and Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles (May 17-June 17).
Barclay continues, “If I wrote a play about gun control, it would be a lecture instead of a question. I want to write political plays that are also flawed, personal stories. And in this play, I’m interrogating the way that media reinforces the notoriety of mass shooters, the way that we as a country take in this news and how that cycle can pave the way for the next shooter to come along.”
Barclay’s colleague Jared Mezzocchi knocked on her office door at the University of Maryland as footage from the on-camera murders of reporters Alison Parker and Adam Ward started to emerge on Twitter feeds. The gunman, who was wearing a GoPro at the time of the assault, forced a nation of viewers to literally examine the incident from the perspective of the shooter.
Mezzocchi, a video designer who became an integral part of Ripe Frenzy’s development, describes how that shared moment of abject horror eventually yielded a play that encompasses greater, messier, more complex themes. “The script gives compassion to the grey area, and that unlocks our ability to have conversations,” he explains. “When we talk about these tragedies, so often it’s this massive spectacle where we shame everyone who didn’t see it coming.” He hopes that the play encourages audience to “engage in a conversation with their children, their communities, in a way that isn’t just about blame.”
Kalman Zabarsky Photographer
World Premiere of Jennifer Barclay’s Ripe Frenzy
BCAP & The New Rep presents the winner of the National New Play Network’s 2016 Smith Prize for Political Theatre, this site-specific premiere brings us to Tavistown, New York, where a recent tragedy has rocked the community to its core. Narrator and town historian, Zoe, recounts the days leading up to the incident, as the high school prepares for the semi-annual production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Jennifer Barclay’s Ripe Frenzy is a stunning new play about community in the wake of unspeakable devastation.
Ripe Frenzy is produced at New Repertory Theatre as a part of a NationalNew Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Other partnering theaters are Synchronicity Theatre (Atlanta, GA) and Greenway Court Theatre (Los Angeles, CA). For more information please visit www.nnpn.org.
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Kalman Zabarsky Photographer