'Friends with Guns' creates political, emotional minefield
Given its title, one might guess that Chapel Theatre Collective's upcoming play, "Friends with Guns," revolves around the polarizing subject of gun ownership. That issue, however, is "secondary to the play's primary focus on a husband and wife, and what empowerment does to the husband-and-wife dynamic," director Illya deTorres said.
"On the surface, this play is about two women creating this wonderful bond, which is challenged by the debate over gun ownership. But it is also about what a bond that strong can do to other relationships," he said.
"Friends with Guns" opens at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 and plays at various times through Feb. 16 at Chapel Theatre, 4107 S.E. Harrison St., Milwaukie.
The play is part of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work, an 11-day arts festival held every January in the metro area. The festival is focused on new work in the arts, including staged readings, full productions, developing works and more.
This production of "Friends with Guns" is the world premiere of Stephanie Alison Walker's play, and she will be in attendance on opening night. There will be a brief talkback afterward.
In addition to directing the play, deTorres also is the technical and co-artistic director of the Chapel Theatre Collective, the venue's resident theater company.
Calling the play a dark comedy, he said "Friends with Guns" is "exactly the right play" for the collective to produce.
"The gun issue is the hottest issue nationwide, and we have to be on top of what (is being discussed) nationally and in the world," deTorres said. "We want to do contemporary, in-your-face theater."
"For me, directing is about pulling the best and worst out of people. I want to bring down their walls and stop them focusing on how they learned to act," deTorres said.
The biggest emotional challenge is "to pull out those parts of their character that the actors don't want to see in themselves," he said.
"I want them to dig deep into their back stories and find the physicality of their character and how their own history affects their presentation."
Theatrically, the biggest challenge has been to figure out how best to use a small stage to present the play, which has eight or nine locations, he said.
"I'm also the set designer, so I decided to go really minimal. I made black boxes, which represent doors, furniture and more, so the stage is interchangeable. And then we went really realistic with the props and the lighting," deTorres said.
What has been the most rewarding for him is watching the actors "embracing the more challenging side of their characters.
"Sometimes I turn to my stage manager and see goosebumps — people are actually experiencing the play, not just watching it."
A member of Actors Equity Association, Jason Glick plays the role of Josh. He describes his character as "an anti-gun liberal who is devoted to his wife and family."
What he likes best about his character is his "belief that he's doing what is right for his family."
Glick said he likes plays that challenge him as an actor, and this one goes to a certain intensity level that "holds up a mirror to the possible worst parts of ourselves."
He hopes the audience will "find the courage to look at other perspectives. There is a middle ground; it is possible to disagree and still be friends. If we do our job right, the audience will leave seeing both sides."
Glick is pleased that "Friends with Guns" is part of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work.
Audiences get to see "new works in all different stages. To be part of such a powerful script that is also a world premiere embodies exactly what Fertile Ground is all about," he said.
Danielle Weathers plays Shannon, Josh's wife in the play. She also is a member of the Actors Equity Association.
"Shannon is a stressed-out mom with two young boys. She thinks everything needs to be perfect; that she needs to be perfect," Weathers said. "A lot of fear stops her, and she doesn't know how to reclaim" her life.
What Weathers likes best about her character is "her surprise at her own courage. She finds a way to jump the fear train; jump the fear track."
She's pleased that the play is "written through a female lens," and noted that "Friends with Guns" is not a pro-gun or anti-gun play.
"The author doesn't preach a side, but she does create a minefield on both sides of the political and emotional landscape," Weathers said.
She and the other actors hope the play will open up a discussion among audience members, asking if "we can expand our horizons."
To that end, Weathers noted that Emily Harris, former host of Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud," will lead a talkback after the Sunday matinee on Feb. 3.
Harris will ask the audience to respond to the show and have a conversation about the issues in the play.
Weathers added, "We need to have some semblance of understanding, so that we can live together in this world."
What: Chapel Theatre Collective presents "Friends with Guns," by Stephanie Alison Walker
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 16, 2 p.m. Feb. 3, 10, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13
Where: 4107 S.E. Harrison St., Milwaukie.
Tickets: Visit chapeltheatremilwaukie.com
More: Playwright Stephanie Alison Walker will be in attendance for opening night, with a brief talkback afterward. Emily Harris will lead a post-play talkback after the matinee on Feb. 3.
Fertile Ground: Visit
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