Tree of Life massacre

‘The Gun Show,’ Quantum Theatre’s new play, wants Pittsburghers to talk to each other

Performances are scheduled for Homewood, Allegheny West and Sewickley.

Actor Andrew William Smith in "The Gun Show."

Actor Andrew William Smith in "The Gun Show."

Courtesy of Quantum Theatre / Photo by Jason Snyder
MJ Slaby

For one hour, one playwright shares five personal experiences with guns.

Then, the audience shares their own.

Quantum Theatre’s rendition of E.M. Lewis’s “The Gun Show (Can we talk about this?),” doesn’t take sides. Instead, it invites discussion, said the one-man show’s star, Andrew William Smith, noting a line from the performance, “The commentary is killing the conversation.”

The show will be unlike anything Quantum has done before, both in content and venues, said Karla Boos, the theatre company’s artistic director and founder.

After opening in Homewood on Friday, “The Gun Show” will move to the North Side on Feb. 20 and Sewickley a week later to ensure it reaches audiences with different experiences with guns, Boos said. The theater company has never moved venues during one run of a performance.

Boos said she was drawn to the play because it engages with a topical issue and helps the audience connect with others and think about their own feelings.

“Through the specificity of one person, you see the larger, the more complex reality,” she said.

The play is written for a male actor to represent Lewis and her stories. The playwright, who is involved in the Pittsburgh performances, wrote five personal stories that are as much about guns as they are about polarization. They range from “very mundane to deeply personal,” Smith said, adding that the first time he read it, he was “completely enraptured with it and a little intimidated.”

Quantum started working on the play more than a year ago.

Before Parkland. Before Tree of Life.

Their work started after Las Vegas, when Smith, an assistant professor of acting at Carnegie Mellon University, said he felt he had to do something. He’d previously performed in a 12-show run of “The Gun Show” with Project Y, a New York theater company he runs, and it stuck with him, he said, “burning back there” in his mind. He brought the play to Boos, and the Pittsburgh project began.

But after Parkland and Tree of Life, Boos said there was a renewed “weight and responsibility” to do the play and to make sure audience members had differing viewpoints.

“Shootings can be abstract, but never again for us as Pittsburghers,” Boos said.

Smith said he accounts for that in his performance.

Quantum worked to make sure that the venues — a library, a community college and an arts organization focused on underserved communities — have a sense of community and don’t present a political leaning, Smith said.

Each show will end with a 15-minute talk led by TJ Parker-Young, Quantum’s patron services manager.

Usually, talk-back sessions host a panel of actors or the crew. But this will be about the audience, Boos said. Parker-Young wants people to share a bit about themselves and for the session to be “brief and meaningful,” as audience members raise their hands to answer questions, she said.

“Everybody is thinking about guns through the lens of recent local events and connecting to their feelings about proposed legislation and this hot button issue,” Boos said.

The audience will also be invited to share a personal story about their relationship to guns by sending a written letter or staying to talk to Parker-Young after the performance. Boos hopes to share those stories with permission at some point, though there is no specific plan yet.

While Smith said he’d love to participate in the post-performance discussion, he won’t.

“It’s their turn now,” he said. “Everybody’s story is valuable, and everybody has a gun story.”


See “The Gun Show (Can we talk about this)” from Feb. 8 to March 3. Adult tickets start at $33. Get details on times, tickets and special performances here, including a pay-what-you-can performance on Wednesday, Feb. 6. Locations and dates are:

  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Homewood), Feb. 8-17
  • Community College of Allegheny County’s Allegheny Campus (Allegheny West), Feb. 20-24
  • The Tull Family Theater (Sewickley), Feb. 27 to March 3

Explore other Tree of Life massacre stories.

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