Guns Are Implicitly Made for Killing: “Trigger Warning”

L to R: Steve Auger, Lilly Brenneman, Liz Adams; Photo courtesy of Zeitgeist Stage Company

Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company
By Jacques Lamarre
Directed by David J. Miller

April 12 – May 4, 2019
Plaza Black Box Theater
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Zeitgeist on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: gunshot sound effect, screaming, domestic violence, mentions of suicide, historically accurate newsreel depicting survivors fleeing danger, cop violence  

(Boston, MA) This month marks the 20 year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. I remember watching it on TV with my brothers before, realizing there was nothing I could do, going to work out. I just knew that my thoughts and prayers would bolster the victims through those hard times.

I was 18 and naively trusted our government to prevent this tragedy from ever repeating. Unfortunately, as the students of Parkland, Virginia Tech, Sandyhook and others attest, the US Govt. has failed its citizens. It can’t even pass moderate gun control measures. Theatre such as Zeitgeist’s Trigger Warning will continue to be necessary until our money-grubbing politicians can wean themselves of the NRA’s violence-hemorrhaging teets.

There was a school shooting massacre in Plainville, CT. Travis Murphy stole his father’s automatic guns to murder his teachers and classmates in cold blood. Mom (Liz Adams), Dad (Steve Auger) and his sister Meghan (Lilly Brenneman) must suffer the consequences of Travis’ actions: the media has stormed their house; the FBI took Dad’s precious guns away; the town is suing the family. They are supported by Aunt Amy (Kelley Estes) and Attorney Bates (Holly Newman). Maeemah A. White-Peppers plays multiple roles representing the struggling community in Plainville. Trigger Warning is fictitious but is based on real events. It’s intense subject matter may not be appropriate for some audience members.

Every time there’s a shooting in the US, our nation proposed solutions fall into two camps: mental health provisions and gun control. Conservatives offer thoughts and prayers while arguing that mental health should be prioritized (while stripping Obamacare of its funding). Liberals rabidly argue that gun control must be enacted as spittal flies from their mouths. As these politicians yowl at each other like cats in heat with no compromise, children die. Children will keep dying until the NRA is driven into the ground with the rest of the antiquated infectious diseases.

Unfortunately, Trigger Warning doesn’t discuss the political strawmanning of either argument. Anyone looking for a treatment of such topics will be disappointed. The play ends abruptly before we learn what positive could come from these negative experiences. Just as Travis so viciously ripped life from his community, Lamarre takes from us a resolution. It’s a great metaphor but a unsatisfying audience experience.  

The play instead focuses on the immediate aftermath of the massacre from the perspective of the murderer’s family. The opportunities for drama are manifold and the cast grasps each with gusto. Playwright Jacques Lamarre sets us up to appreciate the severity of Jackie, Murph and Meghan’s circumstances. The audience is shocked into silence throughout the play and sympathetic to the sometimes unlikable family’s trials. 

Liz Adams and Steve Auger grant their characters sympathy. Adams and Auger bestow upon these characters an emotional complexity one might not expect from them. Even if an audience can’t like Jackie and Murph, an audience could understand why Jackie and Murph parented Travis the way the did (even if we might have decided differently). It would be easy to blame these parents for their kid’s crimes. Instead, we see how hard they’ve worked to love an unlovable teenager.

Meghan is the only likable person in her immediate family and this is thanks to Lilly Brenneman. Meghan provides the only character reference for Travis, and Brenneman these lines it with forthright honesty.

The cast occasionally slipped into the nervous habit of smacking their lips. Anyone with this pet peeve may find it difficult to appreciate the first moments of the play.

Even in the intimate black box, the cast could be hard to hear. Adams and Auger were always clear but other members of the cast need to speak from the diaphragm.

The majority to shooting massacres are perpetrated by white, cis, heterosexual men with sexist and racist belief systems. These men are then treated as misunderstood, troubled individuals by the media. Meanwhile, Black men and boys are shot point blank for suspicion of having what law enforcement thought was a gun at the time. It’s time to value the insights of productions like Trigger Warning and adjust our expectations accordingly.  

Trigger Warning is the last production Zeitgeist Stage Company will produce. Thank you for the last 18 years of great works! You will be missed!

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