Bang Bang is a full show dealing with police violence, responsibility, and artistic appropriation
The Great Canadian Theatre Company is starting their season with a topical political drama that tackles both police violence against Black youth and artistic appropriation, raising simultaneous questions of who gets to tell the story and why the story exists at all.
Bang Bang, by Toronto playwright Kat Sandler, is a living-room drama about a play. Tim, a white playwright, uses the story of Black police officer Lila shooting — but not killing — an unarmed Black teenager as a jumping-off point for a show that becomes a huge success. Though he maintains that the play synthesizes dozens of police shootings and is only distantly inspired by Lila’s story, the play nevertheless has a detrimental effect on Lila’s life. Bang Bang starts when Tim finally visits Lila to talk to her after the play has been picked up by Hollywood.
Bang Bang is a full show, tackling many subjects. Police violence against the Black community is the jumping-off point of the play, but by the end the focus turns to an investigation of who gets to tell whose stories. The politics of artistic responsibility mingle onstage with the politics of police responsibility, something that all five characters have differing views on.
The GCTC put on a stand-out production, with excellent acting and movement on the stage. The five actors bounce off each other’s sentences and move around the set with great timing.
Director Bronwyn Steinberg, who completed her MFA in directing at the University of Ottawa, said she aimed for a realistic production, which puts forward the message unobstructed. The set is hyper-realistic — a middle-class living room — and the characters, though funny and quirky, aren’t absurd.
“I think it works best if it’s just really, really, really realistic, because we want to feel like we know these people, that these characters are our neighbours, and this could happen right here, right now,” said Steinberg. “Something that’s really theatrical, as in more abstracted and not realistic, wouldn’t support this story.”
Along with a realistic set, the play also eschews theatrical lighting. The sound, designed by U of O alum Angela Schleihauf, uses music referencing movies, and the characters themselves are selecting the music from an onstage laptop.
“It almost feels as if you’re watching a movie or a sitcom,” Steinberg said. “We have a lot of other work to do in this story, in terms of the questions it provokes, so I think the story is better served by just being in a living room.”
The music borrows from cinematic scores and exists within the play, all the music coming from one character’s laptop. Schleihauf, who studied music performance at the U of O, looked to film composers to create her score.
“I studied great film composers and considered things like if Pirates of the Caribbean had a sister theme, would that other theme sound like?” said Schleihauf.
Tim, the playwright within the play, talks a lot about writing complicated characters, and Bang Bang is full of them. Tim himself is infuriating and problematic, emblematic of the misguided social justice warrior, and yet he earnestly believes in what he’s doing and its importance. He might be the wrong man to tell the story, but he’s still trying to tell the story to create change.
Despite dealing with such heavy topics, Bang Bang is definitely a comedy. The first half of the show delivers jokes almost non-stop, and the second half, though far more serious, elicited a few laughs from the audience. Making a show about police violence into a comedy is never easy, said Steinberg.
“The writing is really clever. It’s got a really fast pace and funny jokes where the characters don’t know their making jokes. So, the comedy is sort of built in,” said Steinberg. “But it was a really interesting thing to negotiate because we know that these are big heavy issues that mean a lot to the characters, who don’t know they’re being funny, and to the actors playing them, they do know they’re being funny, but they also wanted to give these issues their weight.”
Steinberg compared the comedy to The Office-style humour, where the characters are in such awkward positions that the audience can’t help laughing.
Because of the topical nature of the show, there are plenty of reasons to see Bang Bang. The show tackles heavy topics with comedy and works as a five-way conversation between characters with different opinions.
“I think I really appreciate the tension between people with different perspectives trying to get their intentions across to the other characters,” said Schleihauf. “And it’s all relevant to our contemporary life.”
Bang Bang is playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until Nov. 10. For more information and for tickets, check out their website.