Humor and gripping reality come to the stage for the final week at CoHo Productions with The Gun Show. Written by Ellen (E.M.) Lewis, and performed by Vin Shambry, this play is a show about guns. The five stories are Lewis’s stories. She grew up with guns. They always have been a part of her life. It’s just as time passed, the stories changed, and her relationship with firearms became a bit more complicated.
Indeed, guns in general are a complicated issue in our society. Whereas in Ellen Lewis’s early life, guns were just there–“like toasters and bicycles”–they kill more than 30,000 Americans each year. Says Shambry in the play, “It’s getting so I can’t tell the difference between real life and a Tarantino movie.”
The play takes no sides with the raging gun debate. The purpose of The Gun Show is to start a conversation–a conversation the producer/playwright and co-producer/performer say is not happening. Part one of the play is the five stories; part two brings the audience into the conversation. Thus, every part two is a different experience. There is humor, love, and terror. Shambry does an excellent job of making these stories vibrant, moving, and real. It’s a great collaboration between the two artists.
Shambry is a Portland native, and a resident artist at Artists Repertory Theatre. He earned a BFA in Musical Theatre from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Before returning home to Portland, he performed on Broadway in many shows including Rent and Miss Saigon and toured nationally with these and other musicals.
Lewis grew up in rural Oregon, lived in Los Angeles and New Jersey, is a prolific playwright, and recently returned to Oregon to live on the family farm. She currently is teaching Playwriting at Lewis & Clark College.
CoHo Productions, if you have never been there, is housed in an intimate space in Portland’s Alphabet District. In its 21st season, its mission is to broaden perspectives and cultivate empathy through vibrant and intimate theatrical productions. It has pioneered the artist-led co-production as its model. Each season, CoHo solicits scripts and project proposals from Portland-based theatre professionals and selects three to produce in partnership. I was thoroughly impressed by my first experience at CoHo.
The Gun Show premiered in 2014 at 16th Street Theater in Chicago. It has played in many cities throughout the U.S.; this is its Portland premiere. It runs through October 1 at CoHo Productions, and is directed by Shawn Lee. Photo of Vin Shambry is by Shawn Lee.