THE GUN SHOW BY EM LEWIS is now playing at COHO Productions.
From ON THE TOWN:
What Can This Playwright’s Story Say about Guns in America?In The Gun Show, Oregonian E. M. Lewis digs into five very personal—and political—tales.
By REBECCA JACOBSON
Growing up in a rural farming community south of Portland, guns were a regular part of playwright E. M. Lewis’s life. She had neighbors who hunted, and her family kept a few shotguns and rifles handy—for defending against raccoons in the chicken coop, say, or scaring off bigger predators. Eventually, she herself learned to shoot: an experience she calls “fascinating and wonderful and exciting and dangerous-feeling.”
But Lewis’s connection to guns didn’t remain so simple. It’s that multifaceted and fraught relationship that she mines in The Gun Show, getting its first Oregon production at CoHo Theater this weekend.
It’s an unusual show: onstage, a single male actor recounts Lewis’s stories while the playwright sits with the audience. It’s a deeply personal play, but also a deeply political one—and one that’s only grown more political since its 2014 premiere.
Lewis recently moved back to the state—she’s teaching at Lewis & Clark while living on her family’s fourth-generation farm in Monitor, near Woodburn. We caught up with her ahead of opening night to talk about theater as an act of empathy, growing up in rural Oregon, and where her play fits into America’s escalating gun debate.
How did The Gun Show come about?
The play is about guns and gun control, but it’s also about my personal experiences with guns, which started in a very simple and nonchalant sort of way. In rural Oregon, everybody has guns, or at least it seems that way, even if it’s a shotgun or two up against the back door, purely for reasons of self-protection or shooting a raccoon when it gets into the chickens. Guns were not something I ever thought about. My interactions became more complicated as I moved from childhood to adulthood, from rural places to urban places.
And it’s five of your personal stories about guns that anchor the play.
Learning to shoot was fascinating and wonderful and exciting and dangerous-feeling. Being held up at a bookstore where I worked, being at the other end of that, felt very frightening. But like a lot of people, I’ve had a variety of experiences with guns and am conflicted about guns. This is not a far right or a far left play. This is a grappling with guns in American society, and trying to figure out if there’s some way to come to terms with their presence, or some way in which we can make them a little bit more safe for us. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
What was it like to grow up around guns?
We were not a family of hunters, but we did have a couple of shotguns and rifles that were handy. They were not something that as children we were ever allowed to touch. It was kind of like the hot stove: that’s there, don’t touch it. There were neighbors who hunted regularly. In a lot of ways, there was nothing special about the guns that were in our lives. They were tools—for hunting, for self-defense, for defending against critters going after the chickens. There wasn’t any stockpiling. And a lot of people from my part of the world, from rural Oregon, go through the military, and that frequently brings guns into a person’s personal experience and home.
[Actor] Vin Shambry and I have had a wonderful time talking about our different experiences with guns. We were both born and raised in Oregon, but he was a city kid, an African American Portland kid with a very specific experience and understanding of guns that was very different from me on the farm 40 miles away. We’re bringing our dual experiences as Oregonians to the table.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW.
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