A disaffected suburban dad kills a trench-coated would-be school shooter in this topical drama. Is he a hero or just as disturbed as the youth he shot?
Suburban everyman Jim Bender has lost his job and his wife. She has left him for a more successful man and their teenage daughter has followed her. Bereft and disaffected, Jim buys a gun and spends time at a shooting range run by a cartoonish martinet. There he encounters Gavin, a troubled young man who goes to the same high school as his daughter. The youth expresses suicidal and violent thoughts.
Before Gavin can go on a rampage while wearing a black trench coat, Jim shoots him to death in front of the school and seriously wounds a female student. Through flashbacks we learn all this after Jim has been detained by the police. Is he a hero or is he just as disturbed as Gavin?
Involved in the actions are Jim’s two best friends since childhood: Ben-David is a slick lawyer and Alan is a ruminative doctor. Both have succeeded in their white-collar professions and so there is a gulf between them and Jim. Ben-David is representing Jim during the legal aftermath.
Mr. Graber’s trite scenario is rendered as a superficial by-the-numbers treatment and the presentation is overwrought. Near the end there is an exchange between Jim and Gavin as they sit on stools during an awkward party. The writing and acting are intense and coupled with the simplicity of the situation, the reaction is, “Ah! THIS is the play!” Unfortunately, it’s only a tantalizing respite from the hollow machinations that have come before and the inevitable strobe-light and roaring finale.
Director Katrin Hilbe’s physical positioning the actors is accomplished and the scenes flow. However, the technical elements are obtrusive and the performances are erratic.
The play opens with a Pattonesque address to the audience delivered by Michael Gnat as the shooting instructor. Mr. Gnat’s forceful folksiness is enjoyable in his subsequent appearances as he battles, sometimes to excess, to make something out of this thinly conceived character.
David Perez-Ribada appears to be a capable actor so it is baffling why as Ben-David he is in overdrive from start to finish. Equally as histrionic is the personable CK Allen as Alan. The youthful Nicholas-Tyler Corbin is quite effective in the brief part of the disturbed Gavin.
Thankfully, Ean Sheehy delivers an excellent performance as Jim. Mr. Sheehy achieves a fine balance of requisite rage, anguish and humor with his animated yet restrained presence that holds the production together. Sheehy is able to rise above the mawkishness of several hyper-emotional tirades.
2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange appear to be visual influences on Sarah Edkins’ airy, futuristic scenic design that contrasts with the ripped from the headlines subject matter. There’s a gleaming white floor, silvery columns and white curtains with red borders on top around the stage’s walls. These get pulled open revealing cubicles that resemble clothing store fitting rooms where characters often stand in silence. It’s all an antiseptic motif for presumably symbolic effect.
Cheyenne Sykes’ lighting design grows exasperating with its prevalence. Film noir dimness shifts into brightness with rapidity. At times the lighting fluctuates while actors are in the middle of a sentence for no apparent reason other than showiness. Ms. Sykes’ projection design has a lot of colorful shapes and patterns and police car lights that are periodically shown on the stage’s side walls.
911 emergency calls, police sirens, gun shots and blaring music are all necessary features of Andy Evan Cohen’s adept sound design. Recorded conversations don’t have a realistic tone due to the voices’ lack of authority.
Costume designer Cathy Small authentically represents all of the characters with her strategic selection of present day garments.
“Shooter” explores the correlation of our gun culture to the fragile state of the male identity. “Shooter” asks: are today’s shooter-massacres the result of a malformed and destabilized male identity? This from Sam Graber’s summary of the play in his script. Mr. Graber’s preoccupation with sociological concerns hasn’t been matched by a command of playwriting in this leaden exercise.
Shooter (through March 31, 2018)
TheaterLab, 357 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.manytracks.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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