Kingsville

Kingsville by Andrew Hinderaker
Kingsville by Andrew Hinderaker

Directed by Vance Smith

Produced by Stage Left Theatre

At Theater Wit, Chicago

Preposterous premise makes Kingsville hard to swallow

Andrew Hinderaker follows his wildly successful Suicide, Incorporated with a new cautionary tale about what it means to be masculine and how  fear we allows us to dictate gun policy.  Kingsville opens with a lecture about a study of the traits that define masculinity. The study concludes that strength is the most defining trait  in what it means to be a man. Okay.

We then meet two eight graders, Justin (Andrew Raia) and Mike (Nick DiLeonardi) who are playing an arcade game in which they can seize a price if they are skilled enough. Justin fails but Mike wins a prize – a 22 pistol. DA! It seems in the post Columbine/Virginia Tech world, many school districts have allowed students to carry actual firearms (handguns) in school. The rational is that if many students are armed, a shooter would be limited in their kills since the students could fire back in self-defense. This policy concludes that school shootings are inevitable. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker presents that strange argument without considering other many major elements. Among them are the age limits since in his story Justin and Mike are in the eight grade. How young can one be to carry a gun? 14, 13, 8, 9? Hinderaker never says and it seems that only boys can carry? After all, the shooters are only boys. The questions can fill pages. What about parental approval?

Kingsville by Andrew Hinderaker

We next meet a high school teacher, James (John Ferrick) whose wife substituted for him the day a kid shooter killed her and several students. He abhors arming students despite having a son in the school district.  He debates gun control in the schools on local TV with Wayne (John Arthur Lewis) who runs a gun ‘center’ to tech boys how to use and shoot guns. He does so because he lost his son in a school shooting and he believes that if his son had a gun he would still be alive.  He doesn’t understand that having a gun and actually shooting someone with it are two different matters.  As the two debate, it becomes a match up of a masculine guy verses a weakling guy. A macho guy has a gun and a wimp doesn’t. Really?

We learn that Mike is a fatherless boy who wonders into Wayne’s center to learn how to shoot a gun. His main motivation is to protect himself from bullies at school. He plans an attack at school. His friend Justin is the son of James, the ant-gun teacher. Justin is a nerdy kid who also is being bullied by his fellow students as they put a gun to his head in the school  locker room. Justin feels that his father is a wimp who will not back him against the bullies even though he has not told his father about that.

Wayne, with help from Mike, gets Justin to come to the center to get bullets for the 22 pistol he now has and to learn how to shoot a gun accurately. Wayne wants to demonstrate to Justin (and the world) how James will not defend his son if threatened by gun violence once Justin moves into his father’s class next year at the high school. During the debate, Wayne asks what James would do if a shooter entered his classroom and threatened his son? Would he risk his son by not allowing him or any student to be armed? If safety is a concern, why not home school a child?

The story gets even more bizarre but enough said since I believe that Hinderaker has gone much too far as he tries to stimulate his anti-gun message. This play becomes a fantasy cautionary tale that stretches credulity.

Hinderaker sure leaves out other possibilities if he wants to protect students. What about arming the teachers or having police patrolling in the school? What about more sophisticated gun detecting equipment? What about controlling distribution of guns and ammunition? I could go on and on.

What bothers me most about Kingsville is that is so exaggerated and unrealistic that it doesn’t adequately stimulate a worthy gun control debate. It is not macho to own and use a gun and it is extremely unlikely that a school board would allow kids to carry guns. It would mean many laws would have to be changed before a society would be foolish enough to arm kids. How many parents would discipline a kid who could shoot them? The premise here is just too absurd. If Hinderaker could find a more realistic premise, his desired debate would have more relevance.

As a theatre piece, Stage Left’s cast did yeoman work led by high school students-Nick Dileonardi (Mike) and Andrew Raia (Justin). Once Raia slows down his rapid-fire speech pattern that has him running his words together, he’ll be even more effective. It is encouraging to see terrific young talent on stage.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At Theater Wit, 1229 w.Belmont, Chicago, IL, Tickets $22. www.stagelefttheatre.com, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour, 55 minutes with intermission.