Anyone suffering from desensitization regarding gun violence as a result of oversaturation of the media should hurry to the Gene Frankel Theatre, where 9MM America is currently playing. A production of Girl Be Heard, this intimate and personal performance of documentary theater about gun violence in America is deeply moving and incredibly upsetting – in the best way possible.
A series of skits and songs written by the members of Girl Be Heard and inspired by their own experiences, 9MM America explores and exposes the stories of gun violence that do not make the front page headlines. The young women in the show talk about racism and sexism, about being frisked by police officers when walking down the street while white people walk by unnoticed, and about the inherent masculinity and objectification of women of and through violence. They are angry and they are not afraid to show it.
9MM America opens playing a video of young girls jumping rope, singing “Ring Around the Rosey,” but slowly the lyrics change to, “Gunshots, gunshots, we all fall down.” This image, and numerous others used throughout the production, enhance the onstage action but thankfully do not distract from it, because what is happening there is powerful and it is real.
The scenes and songs the young women act out are beautifully performed, and the honesty behind them is apparent. The young women share their own stories about experiencing violence, losing loved ones to violence and living in fear of violence. More than once, they state as a chorus, “This violence is an American epidemic and I am infected. You are infected.”
The show bravely explores the cyclical nature of violence, not only honoring the sadness behind it but looking into why it exists in the first place. I found myself extremely moved by a skit where the girls talk about their after-school program being shut down and asking where they are supposed to go other than the streets. The skit ended with the cast singing a haunting melody of, “All I Wanna Say Is They Don’t Really Care About Us.” Another scene that struck me was when a woman knocked on a stranger’s door and asked for permission to hunt, explaining why she chose to hunt and how she justified hunting. It was powerfully performed and very thought-provoking about how a topic not commonly discussed in the New York theater community might be viewed in a different community.
9MM America also presented a skit where women pretended to be men and shared their thoughts on how they defined their masculinity with violence and justified their acts of violence with their masculinity. Given the recent sale of an “ex-girlfriend hunting target,” I was especially appreciative of this segment. They also issued a call to “control something that is an object rather than objectifying someone who is controlled.” 9MM America also addressed how guns and violence are trivialized in pop culture, portraying bluntly how the topic is treated so lightly.
9MM America is a piece of performance art, but the stories that are told in the show are true. They are the stories of these young women who are brave enough to share their own experiences and tell the truth. This fact makes the desperation of their message even more powerful, as they ask, “When will it stop?” With works like 9MM America being created, the answer is hopefully sooner than one might think.