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gUnTOPIA’ Designed To Be A Conversation Starter About Gun Violence

The Roustabouts present world premiere of dark comedy

Photo credit: the Roustabouts Theatre Co.'s

Levi Laddon and Ava Harris (front), and Lisel Gorell-Getz and Phil Johnson (back) star in the world premiere of the Roustabouts Theatre Co.'s dark comedy "gUnTOPIA." Play runs through March 29 at Moxie Theatre.

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The Roustabouts Theatre Co. just opened the world premiere of Will Cooper's dark comedy "gUnTOPIA," which takes aim at gun violence and hopes to be a conversation starter.

Aired: March 11, 2020 | Transcript

The Roustabouts Theatre Co. just opened the world premiere of Will Cooper's dark comedy "gUnTOPIA," which takes aim at gun violence and hopes to be a conversation starter.

The play presents what playwright Will Cooper described in a press release as, “a satire about a world where guns have become objects of religious devotion, a world a little like ours.”

The design of the play makes it look like a 1950s sitcom but instead of "Leave It To Beaver" or "Father Knows Best" family antics we are given a world where gun ownership is universal for children and parents alike, and shooting deaths are no more bothersome than a parking ticket.

Rosina Reynolds directs the play.

"It takes place in a utopian environment where everybody is armed," she said. "The idea being that you're safer if everybody is armed because everybody is somehow on a level playing field, an equal. But some of the elements that come out of that is how disconnected we become from our emotional lives and what are the consequences of that? And the play continues on this path from a very satirical opening into a rather dark and unnerving ending."

She continued, "There's no attack on anybody. It's not a satire in the sense that it's taking a very heated subject and then attacking it from one side or one perspective. It's taken a much broader perspective where we take this idea of everybody being armed and put it into this utopic environment, sort of like the '50s in some way. Costumes are very '50s in style so that it's a happy land that these people live in because everything has been resolved because everyone is armed. But what that sense of empathy is something that we're curious about in the play, because it's the empathy that is sort of lost. The emotional content is lost in this utopic world. So what happens when the cracks start to show in that empathetic way? What happens when just one person within that community starts to have feelings that aren't in line with how everybody else feels? The isolation for that person, the concern by everybody else that that person is not part of this society anymore because they're flawed in some way or crazy in some way, because for this society to work, everybody has to be in lockstep and think the same way."

Gun violence and control are hot button issues, and "gUnTOPIA" tackles them in ways that actor, producer and Roustabouts founding member Phil Johnson hopes will provide a “challenging and provocative experience” for the audience. That’s why he has scheduled talkbacks after many performances with the artists as well as experts (academicians, politicians, activists and community leaders) so that people can discuss the issues raised in the play.

State Assembly Member Todd Gloria and Chair Western Region Caucus of the DNC, Jess Durfee, are scheduled to speak with the audience at 4:15 p.m., Sunday, March 15.

"I've tried to do something where we have a bigger conversation and we get people thinking about what they just saw," Johnson said. "All of the talkbacks relate to the play in some way, but not always in the way that you're thinking about. We'll be having some people who talk about getting involved in activist movements. And then there's also an evening where somebody is talking about how do you talk to the other side? The National Conflict Resolution Board, somebody is coming from that group. So we're really trying to put in all different sides of looking at an issue like this because you have so many feelings at the end of this evening and what do you do with that? You could just go home and forget about it, but we're hoping that people take something home from this into their lives, something for change, something for thought, something for growth."

This increased activism and engagement with the community is a natural offshoot of the mission of the company.

"The Roustabouts Theatre Company was started by three writers who were looking to put the material that we cared about most, that we wanted to share on stage," Johnson said. "I'm more from a comedy background and my other two partners had a dramatic background, so we tried to put a bunch of material together that we thought was interesting and fresh and new and that would it would get the audience thinking. So that's what we started and then we also try to put as many new writers as we can into our programming as possible. We have readings of new writers that are happening right now and so we're always looking to help people out in that way."

The Roustabouts Theatre Co.'s production of "gUnTOPIA" runs through March 29 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Tickets are $40. Roustabouts warns that due to subject matter, some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.

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