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Review: Despite what you may expect, 'Friends With Guns' aims neither left nor right

Review: Despite what you may expect, 'Friends With Guns' aims neither left nor right
Brian Graves and Kate Huffman star in the Road Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “Friends WIth Guns,” written by Stephanie Alison Walker and directed by Randee Trabitz and now playing at the Road Theatre on Magnolia. (Brian M. Cole)

Many are likely to misconstrue Stephanie Alison Walker’s new play “Friends With Guns” as a forceful defense of gun ownership. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Second Amendment issues are peripheral to “Guns,” which is having its premiere with the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood. Walker sounds a warning against the dangers of unbridled fanaticism, whether liberal or conservative in nature.

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At its heart, the play is most cogently and pressingly about female empowerment, that most unsettling of worldwide political forces. From the Middle East to the American heartland, fundamentalists decry feminism as anti-Scriptural, anti-male and devastating to the status quo. Walker masterfully addresses that trend, inverting audience expectations with devastating skill.

Shannon (Kate Huffman), a struggling real estate agent, is the neurotically anxious mother of two young boys. Her husband, Josh (Brian Graves), by contrast is an apparently easy-going guy whose relationship with Shannon hasn’t been ruffled by dissension.

But when Shannon meets laid-back mom Leah (Arianna Ortiz) at the park, Shannon believes she has finally found her tribe. That feeling seems confirmed when she and Josh join Leah and her husband, Danny (Christian Telesmar), for dinner.

The politically liberal foursome appear to be natural soulmates. However, when Josh learns that Danny and Leah keep a small cache of guns locked in their garage, he’s beyond outraged — unable to continue a friendship with “gun people,” no matter how congenial. And when Josh later learns that his wife has been joining Leah on secret visits to a gun range — a practice that has allowed Shannon to lay aside her fears and embrace life as never before — he becomes progressively unhinged.

Director Randee Trabitz, a longtime collaborator of wildly offbeat solo artist John Fleck, knows how to navigate the unexpected, and Walker’s script presents its fair share of surprises. Trabitz nails down every laugh early on, then sneakily builds the tension to a level that will floor you.

Ortiz and Telesmar are winning in their roles, but Huffman and Graves do the heavy lifting. Huffman’s Shannon progresses from perfectionistic timidity to euphoric self-confidence, while Graves’ Josh spans from the agreeable to the appalling.

“Friends With Guns” is a subtle, savage feminist parable — a cautionary tale of the peril that may await women who dare to venture outside their accepted roles. The terror here is a monster who’s so innocuous, appealing and just plain likable — until he’s not.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Friends With Guns’

Where: The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 5

Tickets: $34

Info: (818) 761-8838, www.RoadTheatre.org

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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