“The year my mom got a shotgun for Christmas—I’ve never seen her so happy,” Kyle John Schmidt told Curious Theatre Company. As playwright of The Secretary, the show currently making its regional debut on the stage at Curious, he’s had a particularly close connection to firearms his entire life.
Schmidt grew up in a small town in Iowa, which is also the hometown to one of the largest gun supply companies in the U.S., and in the years since mass shootings have become an uncomfortable and far-too-common part of life, he has seen the direct impact that these moments of terror produce. His impression, however, is different than most.
The Secretary was inspired by many things, including the reality of the monetary benefit which many firearm companies see in the aftermath of gun violence. The play features six female characters, and each are as relatable as they are deadly. These women navigate the industry of gun manufacturing, selling, and distributing from a place of distinguished dignity, which is a perplexing contrast.
In the play, purchasing of firearms has gone down for the make-believe company. The characters wish for a massacre in a not-so-joking manner, as they all know that would be good for business and even better for their bottom line. Gun violence equals a payout for this group, and they hold tight to their morals as they reiterate the well-known slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
The direction by award-winning creative Christy Montour-Larson is unparalleled as she ushers the story and actors through the quick-paced, dialogue-heavy piece with ease. From beginning to end, the use of the space and the tension that grew became almost unbearable, as the audience wanted to shout at the sheer absurdity of the situation.
Each member of the cast is diligent in their pursuit of authenticity and excellence, and a fantastic performance that is as bone-chilling as it is wildly plausible is given by the lead, Kathleen M. Brady. Playing Ruby, the owner and leader of the firearm company, she is warm and ruthlessness wrapped up into a single, complex package. Not to be bested by co-star Emma Messenger, who plays Lorrie, the two enter a moment at the climax of the show that creates tension in the chest and fills the air with an intensity that makes it difficult to breathe.
In the Curious Theater Company tradition, the playbill is filled with statistics, facts, figures, and stories which provide a necessary and impactful punch of insight and information. Page after page holds example after example of the sadistic existence of these weapons like the monetization of war, the economic impact of firearm suppliers, and the profit margin of the NRA.
The line is as divided in the need for gun-control as it is with mostly everything else in this country, and The Secretary takes a necessary look at the other side of the conversation. While most are stuck on contemplating if America needs stricter laws, Schmidt looks at the reasons why that is likely to never happen—it would be too harmful for profit to prioritize protection.
Delivering the human condition with a side of capitalism, all at the cost of the humans themselves, Schmidt has somehow been able to write a piece that is altogether relevant, relentless, and relatable. It’s more than likely that every single person has been directly impacted by gun violence in some capacity. Also, we are a people who at times must reconsider morals for a paycheck while excusing participation in something corrupt for the sheer fact that the blood isn’t directly on our own hands.
Running through February 22, this production without question, will force each and every person to assess reason and suspend any sense of disbelief as the very real problem of gun violence in America is unpacked and repackaged in The Secretary.