Pulling from the memoirs of gun-enthusiast Ted Nugent, the final words of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and the ideas of first-person shooter video game programmer John Carmack, the Chocolate Factory’s latest performance is an ode to firearms, video games, and the people who love them.
Although it doesn’t provide an answer, “Gun Play” poses the question: What happens when the line between the virtual world of shooter video games and the real world of guns becomes blurred?
The exploration makes for a visually, aurally and intellectually provocative ride.
Opening scene: Monitors facing the audience at an uncomfortably close proximity display shoot-em-up video games. Actors’ hands wrangle the controllers as they play and spew taunts and expletives at their virtual enemy.
Behind them, the de facto God of programming such gaming enters code into an imaginary keyboard while being projected in real time on the screen suspended above the monitors.
Switch scenes: Enter Ted Nugent, played by a woman speaking into a wall-mounted microphone. Nugent is recalling fondly the “ritualistic Nugent maneuver” that is squirrel hunting.
Switch scenes: Silence. Spotlight on Hunter S. Thompson (also played by a woman). He is, naturally, wielding a gun. He is reciting a portion of his suicide note “ … 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy … You are getting greedy. Act your old age. Relax—This won’t hurt.”
Switch Scenes: An actress delivers pat, emotionless narration on the laws of physics that make death by bullet possible, and sometimes, inevitable.
The performance wraps these, and other myriad concepts about the reality of gun use and ownership, into a sort of virtual reality by lending the performance space the eerie feeling of the inside of a video game. Sparse lighting, projection of real-time video from the stage, the working video gaming systems and other multi-media elements are incorporated to achieve this.
The show’s creators sourced material— and inspiration—from video game programmer John Carmack. Carmack is a co-founder of id Software and best known for popularizing the first-person shooter video game with the release of Doom in 1993. Since then, the games have grown more popular, and more lifelike.
The show’s creator, Brian Rogers, and co-creator Sheila Lewandowski (who also plays Nugent) traveled to Grapevine, Texas last summer to hear Carmack speak at the Quake Convention.
Quakecon, as it is known, draws the upper echelon of video enthusiasts for a week of immersion gaming. Much of what Carmack imparted to the crowd of “6,000 men and three women,” as Rogers recalls it, in his 212 hour speech comes up in “Gun Play,” either verbatim or in concept.
“There is no silver bullet for parallel programming,” laments the actor who plays Carmack at one point in the show. Parallel programming, as it turns out, holds great potential for the future of video games, but is incredibly labor intensive and may have disappointing returns.
Then again, just because you can create the texture of reality, that is, program grass that sways like grass, blood that spurts like blood, and bodies that collapse like the bodies, should you?
Carmack seems to have pondered it as a matter of gaming direction, leaving the ethical quandary to Rogers and company.
On the whole, the production is neither an indictment of video game violence, hunting and gun ownership (a tired tale Rogers admits), nor a resounding endorsement of the kind of National Rifle Association politics that might alienate a young liberal audience.
One doesn’t suspect the company worries about alienating the audience, however, as they are too busy reeling it in to a heady experience of gun reality.
“We like people to leave with more questions,” Lewandowski said after the show.
With such a deluge of images and ideas about guns presented without judgment in the context of video games, it’s hard not to.
Neither Rogers nor Lewandowski pretend to have the answers about the relationship between guns on the screen and guns on the street.
But they do seem to have rephrased the modern gun violence conundrum; calling into question not just our collective response to gun violence, but inviting you to ask what the consequences are of your relationship with firearms.
“Gun Play” is running now through Feb. 4 at the Chocolate Factory, located at 5-49 49th Avenue in L.I.C.(Vernon Jackson stop on No. 7 subway train). Performances are Thursday though Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 each. Thursday night is “pay what you can” for Queens residents.