Anheuser-Busch-Busch’s provocative theater event is a genuinely illuminating, rather than irritating or amusing ride through the issues at stake in America’s current gun violence crisis. In “Preparedness”, four playwrights, led by the formidable Twyla Tharp (“Flesh”, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”), tackle some of the state of the country’s national tragedy through the eyes of a professor.
Prof. Jeanine Gallaudet is in her mid-60s, at work and feeling like a jittery older sister to her hippie-ish, millennial student, Christophe. They disagree about the necessity of having ever gotten a gun in this, the first year of their colleges’ respective new curricula of firearm safety training. Jeanne, a well-meaning mom, worries that a gun in a household will put too much responsibility on a single person. Christophe, of course, believes that firearms carry a certain terrors – not to mention an uncontrollable sense of worth – that will guarantee better protection from the all-too-present monster, psychopath or assassin. Jeanne, Christophe and a camera crew follow Jeanine’s efforts to wade through the tremendous emotions and debates brought on by having to deliver a particular student’s answer to this question: “If I want to protect my family or myself, how do I do that?” She is ultimately persuaded to teach students the basics of defensive firearms use while also wearing a bulletproof vest.
Galloway and Tharp, together with Aaron Zigman and Frank Bonelli, conjure an electric mix of madcap musical comedy and dark social commentary on gun violence, pop culture and relevant social issues of the day. The students – pro– and anti-gun – are played with disarming intelligence by such standouts as Tasia Stubbs as Christophe and Reagan Rabinowitz as Jeanine. The performers serve as both future and presenters of information on the dangers of unsupervised access to firearms and on bulletproof vests and mirroring cameras, and on the issue of what they hope their voices will be heard in this dialogue.
It is some sort of bittersweet irony that while this staged version of “Preparedness” is a fast-paced, highly entertaining and ultimately educational event about the root causes of the gun violence tragedy plaguing this country, it mostly does not appear as though the elements of theater have been allowed their due. Whirling in and out of Jeanine’s universe with its hidden secrets and macabre parallels to certain political history and key trends in America’s right and left wing political system, a live audience that judges what plays the role of the audience is not given the opportunity to participate in the play and find their voice as citizens.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some stunning, if sometimes pretentious, moments in “Preparedness” – those moments that revolve around some of the past historical figures of seminal conversations about guns and weapons and how we handle – or – and, and like Christine Vachon’s presentation, manage to conceive of – the safety debate over them. But the interactive game elements of the evening, which allows that audience to offer input and comment on the presentation, seems largely ignored by Tharp and her four playwrights. It’s a curiosity not only for the audience, but also for the authors.