Strong all-female cast delivers timely and clever satire about gun control debate

Gun control is, understandably, a hot-button issue in America at the moment. There are a lot of ways to approach the topic, and you can see pretty much all of them on display at any given moment on a number of news channels. Anger. Vitriol. Sympathy.

Comedy?

Contributed by Errich Petersen

That’s the approach taken by “The Secretary,” a new play by Kyle John Schmidt that’s getting its world premiere this month courtesy of Theatre en Bloc.

“The Secretary” tells the story of a gun manufacturer somewhere in small-town America that decides to name its newest weapon after a secretary at a local school who used her own gun to stop a school shooter. As the play progresses, we learn more about the details of that encounter, as well as the tendency of the new gun to “go off by itself,” in a high-energy satire that takes aim at all sides of the gun control issue.

The strength of the social commentary in “The Secretary” lies in the script. It pokes fun at both gun enthusiasts and gun control activists in equal measure. In the process of making the excesses of both sides look ridiculous, the play makes strong arguments for both sides, with a middle ground implied as the only solution. Because all of this is couched in satire (with, to be sure, a very dark edge), the commentary never comes off as preachy.

Schmidt creates razor-sharp characters, from the motherly owner of the company, to the “heroic” secretary with a dark secret, to the prospective employee who almost graduated from college with a degree in social justice. The characters all tread a very thin line between realistic depth and cartoony bluster.

It is the extremely strong cast, under the precise and controlled direction of Jenny Lavery, that keeps the play from ever teetering too far over that line in either direction. This all-female cast is one of most talented assemblages of performers ever gathered on the Austin stage, with one knockout performance after another.

Austin mainstays Babs George, Amber Quick and Liz Beckham are joined by relative newcomers Regan Goins and Susan Myburgh, as well as the venerable actress Elise Ogden. Each of the women is given her time to shine by the script, showing us both the darker nuances of their characters as well as their more sympathetic sides, thus creating a true ensemble piece that rightfully puts its faith in the strengths of these actresses’ performances (each of which is embodied in pitch-perfect costume choices by designer Jenna Hanna-Chambers).

The issue of gun control is, without a doubt, deadly serious. In “The Secretary,” though, we remember that amid the cacophony of yelling, sometimes laughter and sympathy can be extremely powerful tools in any reasonable argument.

“THE SECRETARY”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through April 8
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $15-$34
Information: 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org

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