Arts Trigger happy

Hope and Bullets shoots in too many directions at once

The creation of new work is the measure of the vitality of any artistic community. In a collaborative (and thus expensive) medium like theater, the barriers to entry are high. Producers want “proven” money-makers, and San Antonio audiences have not tended to reward a theater’s decision to showcase original scripts.

So I applaud Steven Stoli Playhouse for courageously backing a complete run of a new full-length script by San Antonio playwright Charles Eichman, Hope and Bullets. One of the best-attended venues in the city, Stoli doesn’t appear to have a financial need to stretch its audience, and, as one of our few for-profit theaters, they’re not eligible for grant support for developing new work. This is clearly a case of a producer championing an original script he believes in, and knowingly risking some revenue in order to do so.

Kerry Valderrama as “The Gunman” and Daniel Calderon as “The Salesman” in the world premiere of Hope and Bullets at the Steven Stoli Playhouse.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the script itself, especially because I’ve been impressed with Eichman’s shorter, comedic work. I also wish I could justify my lack of enthusiasm more fully (reviewers should be able to back up their opinions) without giving away plot elements that are meant to be revealed slowly, as the play unfolds.

I’ll share only what the playwright and producer have chosen to, in the program and in press releases: The play opens in a mysterious diner on a desolate road in the middle of a winter storm. One of the stranded occupants has “the gift of knowledge” — he can see the past, present, and future. The title alludes to the options available to one with such knowledge. Shakespeare said it once, too: “To be or not to be.” If you know the slings and arrows are coming, do you optimistically take arms against them, or effect your own quietus, with the modern equivalent of a bare bodkin? The hope or the bullet? The lady or the tiger? Oh, and we’re on the eve of a potentially devastating war. And it’s Christmas time.

Hope and Bullets

8pm Fri,
7:30pm Sat,
2:30pm Sun
Through Apr 2
$18.50 adult; $17.50 military;
$16.50 senior; $12 student

The Steven Stoli Playhouse
11838 Wurzbach

The last paragraph alone suggests the biggest failing of the script — it’s cluttered. Eichman makes the rookie mistake (oddly enough, as he is emphatically not a rookie) of trying to throw too much into the mix. The script abounds with short monologues that sound more like position papers than people, giving us the author’s views (we assume) on hope vs. cynicism, the haves vs. the have-nots, the evils of marketing, the seduction of the writing life. Like the war, and the strange radio reception (and, one might argue, a full 75 percent of the play and its characters, but I can’t defend that allegation without plot-point spoilage), these mini-manifestos don’t impact the only interesting relationship in the story, a triangle the exploration of which could have (and I would say should have) been the entire play.

Cryptic, yes, but I won’t disrespect the playwright by giving away what he wants you to discover. And I think it’s important, particularly with new work, that you judge for yourself. Whether I like the show or not, I will always urge you to see an original production when given that opportunity. You can’t call yourself a theater-lover if you only go to the Majestic. You can’t consider yourself an informed, influential part of an artistic community unless you support the development of new work, with your dollars, yes, but more significantly by participating in the dialogue that is the birth process of any new play. Show Stoli that you value their support of local creativity, and participate in the development (with all the ups and downs that verb implies) of a promising local talent.

By Laurie Dietrich

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