There is a gun onstage. At some point, it will be fired. In this new play, New York playwright Steven Drukman marries Chekhov's infamous dictum with Arthur Schnitzler's bed-hopping La Ronde, producing a black comedy with lethal intent.
As with La Ronde, Drukman presents us with six Bostonian characters in pairs, with one character from each scene appearing in the next. Instead of swapping syphilitic fluids like Schnitzler's loveless lovers, they pass a handgun. Eventually, one of them uses it.
While the explosive potential of the weapon is the focus of the show's dramatic tension, The Bullet Round isn't so much a show about gun violence as violence in general. Drukman doesn't state his opinion of the Second Amendment explicitly, but the play's message seems to be that while firearms are a big problem—"Try looking for a pay phone sometime; it's easier to find a gun" white rapper Joey, a.k.a. Joe Die Wish (Chris Murray), tells his brother (Paul Glazier) in the first scene—they aren't the problem. With one exception, the wounds inflicted onstage have nothing to do with bullets: A girl cruelly snubs her father, who responds viciously; a DJ belittles his guest; a rapper spews homophobic slurs; a young man fantasizes about killing his girlfriend's father. There's so much anger in these rooms that anyone might be moved to pull the trigger.
This world premiere, directed by Megan Kate Ward, does due service to Drukman's acerbic observations of human folly. The set is a rotating affair, spinning into place at each scene change with the hum and click of an unsubtle metaphor. The sound design is remarkably realist. The cast is excellent—Murray gives one of his best performances yet as a nitwit rapper, and Gary Norman's turn as a bitter, self-hating academic is virtuosic, faltering only in the DJ scene. Anthony Casanova doesn't have the tone and rhythm of morning FM, and his shock jock comes across as more of a PBS type. Even so, Ward and company make the script's more unwieldy moments (when Drukman slips into sociological theory) seem natural, and chilling. The Bullet Round imagines a culture in which violence is so ubiquitous that extinguishing a human life for the slightest offense becomes thinkable. And the worst part? We live in it.
Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., bulletround.com. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Aug. 23. $15.