photo: Carol Rosegg
Sam Graber’s skillfully written play SHOOTER is a study of “a pre-emptive shooting massacre”. Jim has shot to death a would-be mass killer and seriously wounded a student in order to prevent the killer from “shooting up a high school”. We learn this through well-placed delayed exposition after meeting Jim and his attorney - an old buddy - in the first scene. Most of the play consists of flashbacks. Its scenes fill in the back story and relate the circumstances that lead to Jim’s preoccupation with his handgun.
Jim’s wife and daughter have left him and he’s lost his job. He’s been abandoned by his higher-achieving pals. He’s drifted - for unspecific reasons - into a gun training class where the instructor, Troy, tells him “This place is for joyless fanatics.” Troy refers to a gun saying “What this is is purpose,” and he tells Jim “Once you belong, a man could get back to whatever he feels he’s lost.”
Jim is so ill-at-ease on the shooting rage that Troy nearly dismisses him, but upon his first shot Jim experiences a rush of excitement that carries him through to the shooting at the school.
Also present in the class is a young man named Gavin. “You think you’re a man right now but you don’t realize you have to fight for it” Jim tells him paternally.
SHOOTER explores toxic masculinity, and this production - from ManyTracks at TheaterLab - is drenched in testosterone. It’s all-male cast of five deftly present male consciousness and male relationships. David Perez-Ribada and C.K. Allen play Jim’s two ex-buddies who come back to support him through a vestige of male bonding, and their acting is clear and well-wrought. Michael Gnat, as well, gives us deft work in the role of Troy, the hyper-macho gun professional who’s not interested in friendship. Nicholas Tyler-Corbin plays the strange Gavin with silent fervor. He doesn’t need lines to act.
Ean Sheehy gives a terrific performance as Jim, exposing the character’s journey with focus and clarity. Sometimes he mutters and rushes his lines nervously in a way that would be annoying if he were less convincing but that works deftly for the character. “I was a monument. I was a mountain. I was planet,” he mumbles recalling the shooting in a stunning monologue.
Katrin Hilbe directs the show meticulously, on a bare stage screaming with violent white walls and floor. She presents Jim under a theatrical microscope but the presentation never looks forced.
However, both the playwright and the director overdo the intensity. Shakespeare gave us the Porter at hell-gate speech in order to give us a contrast to the Scottish play’s murderous tone. It cleanses our brain for the horrors to follow. Mr. Graber gives us no such relief in this script. What’s more, there’s a bar scene in which Jim’s buddy indulges in some superfluous philosophizing.
And Ms. Hilbe keeps her actors at the peak of intensity throughout the play, particularly allowing Mr. Ribada to overplay the loyal attorney. It’s like a concert entirely fortissimo, and we’d appreciate an occassional passage piano.
In 1836 Georg Büchner wrote the play Woyzeck exploring the dehumanizing pressures leading the title character to murder. It’s great to find Mr. Graber examining the same subject in SHOOTER for the contemporary audience, and in such an adroit production.