Zeitgeist's "Trigger Warning": Last Act

The Cast of "Trigger Warning"
(photo: David Miller)

At the close of its eighteenth season, it was entirely fitting that the play Trigger Warning be the ultimate closer for Zeitgeist Stage Company, the scrappy “fringe” theater that was renowned for its courageous, often in-your face productions. The term zeitgeist typically is used to denote “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideals and beliefs of the time”, or as “the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of an era”. Such indeed was the valiant company founded by its Producing Artistic Director, David Miller. And such were the theme and import of this important contribution to the discussion of gun control in our country.

It was decidedly with mixed emotions that one entered the Black Box Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End. There was the ever-present excitement about seeing a brand new play such as Trigger Warning which was not only a world premiere, but a piece that was actually commissioned by Zeitgeist Theatre. At the same time it was with profound sadness that one realized that this was to be the final curtain for the company that has been a fascinating entity providing theatrical works on the edge, always under the careful eye of its founder and frequent director, David Miller. This current production was in that same vein, an original work by Connecticut resident playwright Jacques Lamarre. The playwright lives in close proximity to the sites of three mass shootings, and here displays how such mass shootings may affect the family of a shooter and their concern about whether they missed any signs or ignored them, whether they could have done anything to prevent the slaughter by one of their own.

Kelley Estes & Lilly Brenneman in "Trigger Warning"
(photo: David Miller)

In ninety intermission-less minutes, Lamarre presents a high school mass shooting in which a teenager killed more than fifty people, then himself. This is as much as one might say about the play without spoiling the gradual messages it reveals about such issues of gun control, brain science, parenting, mental health and community. In the course of such a brief work about a subject that is intensely written and performed, there isn't much room for subtlety. We meet the family members virtually immediately as they have just learned of the tragedy, from the gun-loving father Murph (Steve Auger) to the control freak of a mother Jackie (Liz Adams) to their daughter Meghan (Lilly Brenneman).

Also affected are Jackie's sister Amy (Kelley Estes), their friend Attorney Bates (Holly Newman) and FBI Agent Pelletier and Reverend Tracy (both played by Naeemah A. White-Peppers). All struggle to find some reason for such an unreasonable act, and, most significantly, whom to blame. Is it the father, conveniently a gun safety instructor for the NRA who calmly states, regarding his treasured gun collection, “guns are family”? Is it the realtor mother who seems to have more connection with her Alexis disembodied voice than with her family's cries for help and attention? Is it the victimized younger sibling who morphs into what her mother derides as “Jane Fonda”? Wisely, Lamarre doesn't provide easy answers, presenting the problem from an overlooked perspective.

Kelley Estes & Lilly Brenneman in "Trigger Warning"
(photo: David Miller)

In this he's greatly helped by an essential scene in which the talented Brenneman displays the complex and complicated feelings underlying the inaction reaction in our country. Other crucial parts of the puzzle are aided by the Scenic and Projection Design by Michael Flowers, Lighting Design by Michael Clark Wonson, Sound Design by Jay Mobley and Costume Design by Elizabeth Cole Sheehan. And, while some of the acting was uneven, the play's concept and its execution, and the underlying insanity of easy access to warlike firearms, are just beginning to be paid attention.

And, as another playwright might put it, and be correct in applying the exhortation to David Miller, “attention must be paid to such a man”. Perhaps it's too little too late, but some of us have always admired his direction, his drive, and his dedication.

You may experience all of the above just one more time, through May 4th.

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