Few issues these days instigate as much impassioned and ideologically entrenched debate as gun violence and control. In One in the Chamber, a new one act written and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan, the volume drops to the pitch of a single busy household encountering a stranger. The play examines, with Aristotelian compression and almost clinical detachment, the effect on a Colorado family when both shooting perpetrator and victim reside under the same roof.
Six years ago, 10 year-old Adam (Alec Frasier) accidentally shot and killed his 9 year-old brother Joey, leaving his parents Helen (Heidi Sulzman) and Charles (Robert Bella) to raise their daughters Kaylee (Kelli Anderson) and Ruthie (Fenix Isabella) while mourning their dead son. Their trauma dawns on us gradually the day a court-appointed social worker, Jennifer Shaw (Emily Peck), has arrived to determine whether Adam — at 16, already a veteran of juvenile hall and longtime parolee — poses an ongoing risk to society.
Via a series of one-on-one interviews, pretty, polite Jennifer reconstructs the circumstances of the shooting, chipping away at each member’s coping mechanism. Michael Fitzgerald’s domestic set is a chaotic mishmash of unfolded laundry and cluttered counters crowned by a grim proverb, “Home is where you are.” Together they reveal the widening cracks threatening to destroy this seemingly functional family.
Ryan carefully subverts stereotypes; it’s no accident her play unfolds in a purple state. Jennifer is a Portland transplant, an emissary from the liberal West who gracefully resists Helen's aggressive assumptions regarding her supposed dippy habits. The Stewarts are granola Christians who raise their own chickens. Through Jennifer’s eyes we become well-meaning but distant observers, with Ryan daring us to judge. Among the fine ensemble, Sulzman and Frasier stand out with complex portrayals of their characters.
In the end, the play sheds some of its admirable restraint: While not outside the realm of possibility, the events of the final scene feel like a bit of forced sensationalism for the sake of an ending, as well as an indirect indictment of its characters. This quiet, somber story is powerful enough without gilding the lily.
The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; through Sept. 7. (324) 960-7724; www.plays411.com/chamber.
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