The first step to settling an argument is to get both sides to sit down and talk.
That's what writer E.M. Lewis is hoping to do with her play, "The Gun Show," coming to the University at Albany's Performing Arts Center Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
"We feel like we're so far apart on some of these hot-button issues that we can't even get a conversation started," said Lewis, an Oregon native who has returned to the family farm after living in Los Angeles and New York City. "What I'm trying to do with my play is at least bring both sides to the table. That's what frustrates me about America today and it's more than just guns. We have plenty of problems, and to solve them we have to work together. We have to talk."
Lewis's play is a one-man show, performed in Albany by Christopher Smith, and consists of five stories relating to the playwright's own experiences with guns.
"I'm an Oregon farm girl so I grew up where guns were common," she said. "Just about everybody had a few shotguns at the back door because we were quite a ways away from our neighbors and the police, and there was always some varmint threatening the chickens or something else you had to deal with. And over the course of my life I've had an incredibly complex relationship with guns. Guns can be a helpful or hurtful part of our society."
"The Gun Show" premiered at the 16th Street Theatre in Chicago in the summer of 2014. It has also been performed around the country, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles with universally good reviews. Lewis says her play isn't a tool for liberal or conservative propaganda.
"I'm trying to figure out what guns mean in this world, and I'm trying to look at it from both perspectives," said Lewis, who will not be at the Albany performance. "I don't think I'm alone in having a complex reaction to guns, but I also think we should try to make the world a safer place."
While "The Gun Show" has been staged at many commercial theaters throughout the country, it has also gotten plenty of play on college campuses.
"I never had a play before catch fire like this one, and I'm sad to say it's still absolutely as relevant as it was when I started writing it," said Lewis. "We have not figured out gun control yet, and I think people are hungry for solutions. They're also just exhausted by all the news, and that's why they like the idea of having an opportunity to sit in a room and work together and try to sort out some things."
A post-play discussion of the gun issue will be held with Smith and the show's director, Patrick Jordan. Both are based in New York City.
"'The Gun Show' doesn't take sides," Jordan said in a press release. "It's fair and aims to get people to talk to one another. It grapples with the place that guns have in our society. Is there some way to come to terms with the presence? How can we make them a bit safer? It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's an open and ongoing discussion."
Jordan has directed and acted throughout the New York City area, and also directed "The Gun Show" in a production held at PS21 in Chatham in February of 2018. Smith was also in that show and has also worked in television, including stints on "Orange is the New Black," "TURN: Washington's Spies," and "The Blacklist."
"Most of my plays are safely couched in fiction, but these are five stories about experiences that I have had," said Lewis. "They are all very different, and the actor tells the story on my behalf. It could be a male or a female doing the performance. I've written them so they can be any gender."
While she's gotten positive reviews from most everyone, Lewis isn't sure how the National Rifle Association might feel about her play.
"I have no public statement for them," Lewis said of the NRA. "There are times in our history when we need education to help with a problem, and I don't think the NRA is helping us find any common ground. They certainly don't seem to be a helpful part of the conversation right now."
Lewis has been writing plays as well as writing operas on a full-time basis for more than 10 years. Some of her other works ae "How the Light Gets In," "The Great Divide," "Apple Season" and "Now Comes the Night."
'The Gun Show'
WHERE: UAlbany's Performing Arts Center, Albany
WHEN: 7:30 Wednesday, March 27
HOW MUCH: $15, $10 for students, senior and UAlbany staff
MORE INFO: Call (518) 442-3997 or email [email protected]