nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 12, 2006
Just 45 minutes in length, Gun Play, the new performance piece from Brian Rogers and his collaborators at the Chocolate Factory, is very short. It's also very uncomfortable, physically (the audience is seated on bleachers) and dramaturgically (the format is entirely non-linear, non-structured, not explained).
I think it's about the fetishization of guns by those who employ them, literally (rock star Ted Nugent is quoted extensively, describing the thrills of creating roadkill) and metaphorically (video game designer John Carmack is also quoted extensively, explaining the joys of crafting virtual destruction). For conceiver-director Rogers, form collides and congeals with content, for Gun Play is a work of theatre that's mainly about its toys: nearly a dozen computers, two projection screens, and live digital video cameras (not sure how many) are arrayed all around the tiny performing space—scads of technology in overdrive; way more than the $15 ticket price would seem to entitle us to; way more than seems to be needed to make whatever points Gun Play finally makes (except the pivotal one, that we are infatuated with our tools, be they guns or video equipment).
What happens in Gun Play? We watch the actors play video games for a little while; if you're close enough to the screens where the games loop, live, throughout the show, there's real danger in getting caught up in their hypnotic rhythms and patterns, in fact.
We witness re-enactments of Nugent, Carmack, and others (named in the program but not identified clearly in the show proper), talking about guns, physics, and video game design. It's repetitive and almost oppressively spare; Rogers has used this technique to great effect in earlier works like Fundamental, but here an apparent bent toward theatrical minimalism renders the found text less compelling.
We hear a constant soundscape of bangs, booms, explosions, etc.—designed by Chris Peck, the barrage of sound fx is perhaps the most potent element of the design.
And we see Gun Play's five creator-performers engage repeatedly in several ritualized vignettes. Sometimes they arrange themselves in a game of musical chairs that (I think) is meant to seem lethal. Sometimes they (very effectively) impersonate roadkill or dead bodies, prone in grotesque positions on a mat on the floor. Sometimes they careen through the space and bang themselves against mats attached to the rear wall, suggesting the paths of bullets. Actual bullets, or at least a very realistic-looking facsimile, literally rain down on the stage at one point. But interestingly, not one gun is ever fired during the play.
It's never uninteresting, but it does feel sometimes willfully obscure, which is why I left concluding that the apparently subtextual gears and gadgetry that separate the audience from the players might well be the real point. The "play" in Gun Play seems to signify not drama but sport: a fascination with machinery that can (actually or virtually) blow stuff up into a zillion pieces, without much regard for what that might mean to the hapless passerby.