At the Curious, ‘The Secretary’ is a dark, hilarious take on America’s gun lunacy

Kicking off its 2020 season with a bang (or rata-tat-tat) is the Curious Theatre’s regional premiere of Kyle John Schmidt’s The Secretary. Schmidt has written an intelligent, dark comedy that explores the gun issue from a unique perspective both inside and outside the traditional arguments.

The entire play takes place in the office of a local gun manufacturer in a nondescript western town. At the beginning of the play, the matriarchal Ruby (skillfully played by veteran Colorado actor Kathleen Brady) is visited by the secretary at a local high school, who has recently taken down a school shooter with the use of six bullets. Ruby decides to honor her heroic act by naming a new gun after her — “The Secretary.” In the same fashion as previous shooting tragedies, Ruby’s personalization of the firearm helps spur sales by cashing in on timely fear. But soon, what was profitable for business takes a tragic turn as the guns start firing on their own.

The decision by director Christy Montour-Larson and set designer Caitlin Ayer to use a dated wood-paneled office and Remington-like cowboy wall art act as a constant reminder that an old-style belief system is forever part of the mix. In many respects, the play represents a collision of old-fashioned American ideals with the new pressures of modern life. Playwright Kyle John Schmidt’s choice of an all-female cast allows the viewer to examine the subject of gun violence without the interference of male aggression.

By removing the overt “maleness” from the gun conversation, the audience is afforded time to experience the complex nuances of the gun debate through the intriguing woven wordplay of the female cast. As directed by Montour-Larson,  Schmidt’s characters are built to represent themes inside the gun debate.

Emma Messenger and Leslie O’Carroll Photo: Michael Ensminger

Stellar cast

In addition to Kathleen Brady’s anchoring performance (interesting that the voice of reason is the gun merchant), the rest of the cast are noteworthy in their respective roles. Adeline Mann’s interpretation of the role of April adds a biting, opinionated youthful anti-gun stance that immediately clashes with the old-town ways. Her eventual acceptance of protective measures shows the power that fear can have over idealistic visions. April’s half-sister Janelle, played by Devon James, does an excellent job demonstrating the role of a dutiful, rule-oriented calendar-keeper office manager that matches her balanced comedic timing.

As Brandy, the mother of the slain school shooter, Karen Slack offers an interesting socialist argument on fairness and a very touching mini monologue about the loss of her son. She represents the cutting truth of loss from the often-avoided perspective of the “bad” family. The school secretary, Shirley, played by a wide-eyed and shell-shocked Leslie O’Carroll, kicks in some slightly over-the-top physical comedy. It’s an intriguing counterbalance to her almost spooky emotionally unstable state. Her acting choices have a way of unveiling a touch of horror inside the comedy.

Scaring the daylights out of us in a masterful performance is Emma Messenger as Lorrie, the newly hired secretary for the gun company office. Her commitment to character is impeccable with a comedic intensity and rhythm that is spot-on. She covers her lies so convincingly that the audience almost wishes to believe her rebuttals. In the scene where she makes the argument that the “gun went off by itself,” it becomes difficult not to think that the copier machine somehow deserved its destructive fate. Her performance remains a standout through to the final, chilling standoff between her and Ruby.

Devon James, Adeline Mann and Emma Messenger. Photo: Michael Ensminger

Gun-mad culture

Interspersed between acts are voice-overs and projected imagery that act as billboard advertising to the gun-crazy aspects of our culture. These sardonic comedic interludes of guns snuggling up to our overly commercialized lives serve as reminders to our collective dysfunction.

Kyle John Schmidt script represents a daring attempt to wake up the consciousness surrounding gun violence and dig deeper into the sources of the problem. If our culture is increasingly defined by finger-wagging and swaying victimhood fueled by self-interest, Schmidt asks us to examine all the complexities and look at our behaviors as likely feeding into the muddled mess.

The production closes with a standoff triggered by the premise of the play’s often-repeated phrase “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” In Schmidt’s world, neither is true: The guns have taken over, we’re at their mercy, and who knows when the next one will go off. To underscore the tension, the final blackout is preceded by a long pause — a very long pause — compelling the audience to sit in the uncomfortable silence before the next round goes off. Or will it?

Without deploying many of the familiar pro and con arguments around guns, The Secretary is a funny, chilling reminder (not that we needed one) of what a screwed-up society we live in.

Adeline Mann, Leslie O’Carrol, Kathleen Brady, Emma Messenger, Karen Slack and Devon James in the Curious Theatre production of ‘The Secretary.’ Photo: Michael Ensminger