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2002-2017: Now in Year #14 of our Kamikaze Journey!
Subversive Theatre: Where pissing you off is only the beginning

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   "Producing theater is always a struggle for a culture of meaning.  Most theater teaches the values of the ruling class.  Political theater should be held to the same standards of entertainment as other theater, but we should dramatize the struggles of ordinary people.
   "We should deal with the passions and problems of most of this country -- workers, women, student activists -- rather than the elite few."

-Obie Award-winning Playwright Maxine Klein
Reprinted from the Buffalo News  12/8/14

Subversive's 'Guns of Christmas'

Tears Down the Walls of War

By Matt Chandler
News Contributing Reviewer
on December 8, 2014 

3.5 stars (Out of four)

From its name, to its warehouse location far from the downtown Theatre District, to the musings on its website, the troupe running Subversive Theatre Collective makes no bones about the type of shows it produces.  Charging that "Art is not a diversion for the privileged elite," the theater has built a reputation on gritty, politically edgy productions.  Its current offering, "The Guns of Christmas," falls right in line with that model.

Set over two days (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) during World War I, the play examines the commonalities of men in battle through the eyes of a group of British soldiers squaring off against their German counterparts.

The set-up is that Percy (Lucas Lloyd), the sergeant major leading the British troops, dares to ask for a 24-hour cease-fire so that both sides may rest for the holiday and bury their dead. What happens over those 24 hours makes for some of the most compelling theater you'll see this season.

While the acting is what you might expect from a small Buffalo theater company -- passionate and no-holds barred -- the brilliance of "Guns" begins with the script.  Writer/director Gary Earl Ross, a longtime educator and prolific writer, has penned a masterful tale of war, weaving his political ideals brilliantly throughout.

Ross gives his actors a smorgasbord of powerful lines, and they feast on them throughout the two-hour show.

The play opens with a darkened stage and a narrator reading an ominous letter to an unknown recipient.  It details the plight of soldiers at war, and it sets the stage (a stage strewn with soldiers' corpses) for the drama that will unfold.

We will later discover (no spoiler alert, really) that the letter is written by Thomas (Lawrence Rowswell), the British chaplain who has stayed on the front lines to support the troops.  Rowswell is a standout among very good cast members, delivering strong lines, interjecting occasional levity into the grim, dark subject, and delivering a final monologue that has the audience hanging on his every word.

Across the battlefield on the German side is Percy's counterpart, Johann, played by John F. Kennedy, who gives a memorable performance as the leader of the German troops.  Kennedy is lively and passionate in his role, and he carries just the right tone when delivering some of Ross' most memorable lines, including telling his enemy, "In war, we are what we need to be, or we don't survive."

That, in itself, encapsulates "The Guns of Christmas."  Ross tears down the stereotypes -- that Germans are evil, that soldiers love war because they are patriots, that enemies can't possibly have common ground -- and he does so in a thought-provoking way that leaves the audience to consider that the more people are different, the more we really are all the same.  He accomplishes this through the cease-fire, as the men from both sides bond over common desires, namely cigarettes, food and women. Two by two, Ross brings the combatants together on the battlefield, to connect over these simple things and to tear down the walls of war.

Rowswell, Lloyd and Kennedy are impressive in their roles, each bringing enough to the table to carry the play alone, but collectively making "The Guns of Christmas" a dramatic tale you won't want to miss.



"The Guns of Christmas"

3.5 stars (Out of four)

Presented by the Subversive Theatre Collective through Dec. 20 in Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 students and seniors. Call 408-0499 or visit

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