USF Theatre Honors adresses gun control with comedy


A new play from the USF Theatre Honors program, “Reload,” attempts to tackle the serious issue of gun control in a humorous, interactive way. 

After debates sparked by heavy media coverage of recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary and the Aurora, Colo., shooting, Christopher Hough, a senior majoring in theater arts who wrote and directed the piece, and the cast decided to tackle the controversial gun control topic by using humor to poke holes in both sides of the argument. 

“Gun control is an extremely hot topic right now,” Hough said. “There have been so many recent tragedies. There is rarely a week that goes by now where the country does not hear about something that has happened that is truly horrifying.”

The play runs from today through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in TAR 120. Admission is free but donations go to the support the Student Theatre Production Board.

The storyline of the play, which features a live taping of a pilot of a new show, “Reload,” was formed through improvisation, Hough said. 

“Everything that is in the show has had some portion of input from every member of the cast,” Hough said. “There are very few portions of the show that were written by just me.”

Selena Frey, a junior majoring in theater performance, who stars as Sherry, said using the devised method of creating a script has helped her improve her improv skills. 

“I never really done improvisation before,” Frey said. “It was really crazy and sometimes terrifying. It really opened my eyes in what playwrights go through, by taking the original idea and developing it.”

The final product is a show within a show. 

The audience watches the taping of “Reload,” a variety show that initially appears to be a fun, family-friendly show, but it quickly takes a dark turn as the audience discovers a better sense of the true identities of the actors and director.

Though a few scenes seemed to unnecessarily yet deliberately push the envelope, such as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler having sex with President Barack Obama, Hough and the cast executed the script with great craftsmanship and showed excellent comedic timing throughout the play with humor that poked fun at both sides of the gun debate. 

Like in the recent Theatre Honors play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” Ricardo Soltero-Brown, a senior majoring in theater arts, steals the show with his outstanding performance. He commands attention as he plays the role of The Director. 

Soltero-Brown shows his range as an actor as he goes from a controlling, manipulative director who is not only hiding in a disguise, but later becomes desperate and anxious as he reveals he also has a hidden agenda with the show. 

During his final meltdown, Soltero-Brown delivers one of the most memorable lines of the play: “Fiction is merely reality that hasn’t happened yet.”

Alex King, a senior majoring in theater performance who plays JB, a former teen idol and recovering addict who is now the co-host of “Reload,” is another actor who stands out in the show. 

King displays impeccable timing with many of his frantic lines and actions, particularly in the scene that is reminiscent to “Weekend at Bernie’s,” when JB has relapsed and is close to an overdose and must deliver the scene as a human puppet. 

This is not the first time that King has played a frantic role. He, too, recently starred as a soldier who has a mental breakdown in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” 

“I am typecast as the insane guy,” King said. “It’s a given.”

Though the characters he portrayed in the two pieces were very different, it is easy to see that King is comfortable letting loose and giving his all no matter where the scene may take him.

The well-rounded cast has an obvious chemistry that responds well with the controversial topic and comedic humor needed to portray. 

Faith Von Minden, a senior majoring in theater performance, took the creative process to the next level by not only crafting her character Ghevanyette, but also the country from which the character came from. 

Von Minden not only created a loveable, comedic character but portrayed her superbly. 

“I wanted to create her from a country that did not exist so that I would not offend anyone,” Von Minden said. “She is a cross of Western and Eastern European countries. Like a blend of Russian and Spanish.”

Though the play is a comedy, the audience must keep in mind that the theme of the piece is gun control and gun violence. The show is recommended for adults only because of mature themes, gun violence and language.

But the audience should not expect an answer on the contentious topic. 

Hough said that the play has more to do with awareness and the knowledge that it’s alright to laugh at the absurdity of both sides of the argument.

“This isn’t a morality play,” he said. “I do not expect the audience to walk away saying, ‘Well, there’s the answer.’ You’ll see at the end, even the cast has trouble finding the right answers.”