What do you get when you take one of America’s most controversial theatre artists and its most divisive political issue and put them in a room together in our nation’s capital? In the case of Mike Daisey’s The Story of the Gun, on stage now at Woolly Mammoth for a limited run, you get a meandering, funny, enlightening, and heartbreaking monologue that’s as much about Daisey’s own past and inner demons as America’s love affair with killing machines.
Seated at his usual nearly-empty table in front of a large-scale painting that calls to mind a bullet being shot through water, Daisey challenges the audience from the very beginning, looking at us dubiously, trying to understand why we would eagerly turn out to have a conversation about the one issue no one in this country really wants to discuss. This being Daisey—whose stock and trade is well-constructed narratives that nonetheless contain many a tangent—there was a point in the monologue where I thought we were in for 2 meta hours of him talking about how we don’t want to talk about guns instead of actually talking about guns.
The Story of the Gun
closes August 9, 2018
Details and tickets
But, never fear, Daisey doesn’t shy away from history and politics. There’s plenty of discussion about how guns were invented, how they’re inextricably tied to the founding of America in that they allowed outnumbered Europeans to carry out a horrific genocide of Native peoples and keep slaves in bondage, and how the NRA evolved into the political force it is today. It’s interesting information relayed in an entertaining fashion, and while Daisey certainly has political leanings of his own, he never lets the audience forget that they’re in a homogenous room full of the kind of Washingtonians who attend theatrical performances on a Tuesday night (read: not gun enthusiasts, in general).
To me, the more interesting parts of the monologue are when Daisey weaves personal details from his own life into the story. During moments in which he describes his childhood growing up in the gun-ubiquitous reaches of far northern Maine and the look on his face when his lesbian girlfriend in Seattle found his NRA membership card in his wallet, our narrator reminds us that he is in fact a master storyteller, not a lecturer. At the very end of the piece, when Daisey is being more vulnerable and honest than he’s been thus far, he lobs one reminder at us, and the sound of a pin dropping could absolutely have been heard.
If you think you’ve heard all you’ll ever care to hear about the gun control debate, The Story of the Gun proves there’s still more to be said. Yes, you’ll learn from Daisey, but you’ll also feel deeply—sometimes that feeling will be hope, sometimes despair, and sometimes, perhaps most importantly, empathy.
The Story of the Gun, created and performed by Mike Daisey. Presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Reviewed by John Bavoso.
The show was a real disappointment. I was hoping Mike Daisy would uncover something I didn’t know if I hadn’t read a few history books and the New York Times. He didn’t. There was little that elevated to poignant, artistic, or humorous about the performance and left my companion and I wondering afterwards why we didn’t leave during the first half hour.
The final 15 or so minutes ended with a personal story that was the only worthwhile part of the show and had me curious as to why he didn’t weave more such stories throughout the two hour meandering history lesson.