One In The Chamber
By Marja-Lewis Ryan
Mead Theater Lab, Flashpoint Gallery
I wasn’t sure I wanted to take this play in, but then I read Christopher Henley’s review on DC Theatre Scene, and I decided to go. I am really glad I did, because this is probably one of the best productions I’ve seen all year, and certainly it had two of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
The director, Michael Piazza, made this statement about the play: “This is not a political play in its aim. It’s an examination of a family and of a tragedy that involves hot-button political issues, but it is crafted in a way that the politics is kind of left to the audience to grapple with, instead of the play itself making a clear political statement.” This is largely true. The precipitating event—Adam accidentally shooting his brother Joey—could have been some other sort of accident. The primary focus of this play is the disintegration of a family following a traumatic incident. Each of the family members deals with the tragedy in a different way, none of them well. The father drinks, and works extra hours to avoid his family. The mother drinks seriously: she drinks vodka out of a large travel coffee mug, and as her daughter points out, her tipping point (at which time she is seriously drunk) is 11 AM—around the time the social worker arrives. The daughter, meanwhile, is even more cynical than most girls her age, and is, in her mother’s words, “promiscuous”. Adam seems to be handling it best, but he’s hollow inside. And the social worker is completely out of her depth. She has insufficient training to handle the situation (she keeps making faux pas in her questioning), and she is overwhelmed by the family’s torrential emotions.
The Theater Lab is tiny, and the seats are right on top of the disheveled set. This is a very intimate venue, and you really feel like you’re in the room with the family as they have their several interviews with the social worker. The attention to detail in the set is amazing: it really does look like people live there. The entire cast is strong, but two performances really stand out. First, Adrienne Nelson as Helen, the mother: she is still distraught from the events of six years ago, and she feels partly responsible for the accident. After all, she didn’t take the extra 30 seconds, walk the extra seven steps, to secure her revolver before before going up to check on her daughter. Over the course of the play, she slowly crumbles inside, and then explodes. Noah Chiet’s Adam, on the other hand, is sweet and soft-spoken, self-effacing, and understanding of what his foolish, playful act has done to his family and himself. But Adam is hollow, and the pain of his family’s disfunctionality is more than he can bear. The end of the play is harrowing, and both Nelson and Chiet turn in Helen Hayes-worthy performances.
There was a talkback session after the play, with former Vermont legislator Linda Waite Simpson talking about some gun legislation she worked on while in office. All of the sessions were generally with pro-gun control speakers, and the audience the night I was there seemed to focus on gun laws. (Apparently no “gun lobby” speakers accepted the invitation to join a talkback session.) But no gun law could have prevented the accident in this play: not even the law that Rep. Waite proposed (which would have punished the mother in this play for her negligence). There are no simple answers, and this play isn’t limited to gun–related questions. It really is a challenging play, and it got a phenomenal performance from an amazing cast.
|Director||Michael R. Piazza|
|Scenic and Properties Designer||Katie Sullivan|
|Costume Designer||Lyn Chiet|
|Production Stage Manager||Jenn Carlson|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Curt Gavin, Henry Kramer|
|Technical Director||Christian Sullivan|