So far in 2019, there have been at least 17 mass shootings in the United States, according to ABC News; depending on how one qualifies the term, that number can go as high as 200 or more. At the center of each one was an individual, pushed and twisted for one reason or another, experiencing incredible isolation as they inflicted pain on others.
Patrick Walsh, director of Chautauqua Theater Company’s second New Play Workshop of the season, On the Exhale, said that pain and isolation are things people don’t always consider when looking at these tragedies.
“People, through pain or trauma or tragedy, can find themselves incredibly isolated from others,” Walsh said. “These feelings of isolation are things that I think everyone has at some point, and I want to try to talk about why, and how we can remove those barriers of isolation.”
On the Exhale, by Martín Zimmerman, is a show that follows a single character, one with no name, as she navigates her life after it has been irrevocably changed by an act of gun violence. The NPW, which is sponsored in part by the Roe Green Foundation, opens at 8 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater, and runs through Sunday. In the midst of the torrent of pain and anguish left behind by attacks like those in El Paso or Dayton earlier this month, Walsh said works like On the Exhale can provide some guidance toward healing and progress.
“It doesn’t help us to demonize an idea or a community,” Walsh said. “This show moves in the direction of, ‘How can we bring ourselves together?’ — instead of, ‘How can we shout over each other?’ ”
As the play’s sole character lives out her life onstage, she grapples with feelings of immense pain, regret, grief and confusion. According to Claire Karpen, guest actor and CTC alum who stars in the show, On the Exhale brings a humanity and relatability to an incredibly heavy and difficult subject.
“While you’re watching her wrestle with her own pain and grief and guilt, I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to her,” Karpen said. “Because you can relate to her, I think people will relate to her journey and gain some new insights into what guns are and what place they have in our society.”
But no matter how down-to-earth or relatable the show is, Walsh acknowledged that the subject matter remains challenging to deal with, even at the best of times. Despite that, he said by following this woman on her journey throughout the play, the audience might gain some new perspective on the issue of gun violence, as well as a deeper understanding of the pain and suffering that is intrinsic to these tragedies.
As for Karpen, she said she wishes the show’s themes weren’t nearly as relevant as they continue to be.
“This is an intense week to be going into this,” Karpen said. “What’s even scarier is that I’m not surprised. I knew that going into this play, the chances of something happening that would make it relevant were high. I wish that I could have been thinking, ‘Oh, by the time we get this on its feet, it’ll be irrelevant,’ but I can’t.”
At a time when people in the United States remain fiercely divided over issues like gun control, productive conversation can often seem impossible. But by taking a step back and examining, conversing and breathing, Walsh said through shows like On the Exhale, the audience and the nation might start to move in the right direction.