Sarah Q. Shah (foreground) and cast of "Subway Story (A Shooting)" by William Electric Black. The beige cardboard poles are used choreograhically to simulate the poles of a subway car. Photos by Jonathan Slaff.


February 22 to March 18, 2018
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$15 general admission, $12 Seniors/Students, $10 groups
Box office (212) 254-1109,
Group sales: Alex Santullo (212) 475-0108
Running time 85 min.

Innumerable American children and teens are exposed to gun violence at home, in school, in their communities and in the media. In "Subway Story (A Shooting)," playwright/director William Electric Black means to elucidate the pressures that drive the epidemic in young people. The piece is the final installment of his five-play GUNPLAYS Series, which has dramatized the epidemic of gun violence using differing approaches and theatrical styles. Theater for the New City, which has presented the entire series, will mount "Subway Story (A Shooting)," its final installment, February 22 to March 18 in its Community Theater.

A series of talkbacks with experts in various fields on three Sundays following the show aim to elucidate the pressures driving gun violence in young people.



Click picture to watch segment on WABC-TV's "Here and Now"
Aired: Feb. 11, 2018

Click picture to watch segment on New York 1 "In Focus" with Cheryl Wills. Aired: March 4, 2018.

Early this year, The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on 2014 data, reported that homicide is the leading cause of death for Black males between 15 and 34. Among the twenty-one NYC teenagers who died violently in the past twelve months, all were Black or Hispanic; all but one were male and all but two were shot. Irrespective of other circumstances, these victims shared a common reality: they grew up in poverty-stricken communities where threats of violence and death are constant. Studies show that youths who witness gun violence experience similar negative psychological and physical harm as youths who have had direct exposure. Of all the risk factors, the strongest and most consistent predictor of youth gun violence is exposure to or history of violence. In addition, the access to and availability of firearms increase the likelihood of weapon-related violence among youth.

Reviews of literature on gun violence reveal that violent crimes in urban areas are more likely to involve guns than in suburban or rural areas. While school shooters tend to be from stable, low crime towns and suburbs who generally do not know the people they kill, street shooters tend to live in densely populated areas with high levels of crime and poverty, and they tend to kill individuals they know.

A teacher (Levern Williams) makes it clear to a high school student (Sarah Q. Shah) that she must complete a composition to be promoted to the next grade. A transgender boy named Emmett offers a gun to an abused teenager named Chevonn, in exchange for her killing him since he is being bullied in school. L to R: Natalie Martino and Sarah Q. Shah.


"Subway Story ( A Shooting)" is the unfolding of an essay by an African-American teenage girl named Chevonn, which she must complete to pass junior English. It is supposed to be nonfiction but instead turns out surprisingly literary in style. In her composition, a troubled, abused high school student combs the subways, seeking to obtain a gun in order to shoot her mother. Her quest is narrated in a fantastical mashup of literary images that are part Lewis Carroll and part queasy reality, revealing issues affecting our children including alienation, discrimination, bullying and the easy availability of firearms. Chevonn's autobiographical tale strongly suggests how society needs to perceive the hopelessness that kids face and how this can make them lash out with guns or turn them on themselves.

Chevonn has been physically abused by her mother and sexually abused by her father. The girl of her story, like many teens of lower income, dysfunctional households, seeks a gun to end the pain. Along the way, Chevonn meets subway-dwellers whose stories she captures in her composition book and she wrestles with her own destiny while encountering a succession of hidden sufferers. As their stories unfold, so do stories about assault, gender bias, homelessness, the plight of Dreamers, hatred toward Muslims and the effect of gun violence on people of color. Chief among the young woman's encounters is a transgender boy named Emmett who has a gun because he was bullied in school and seeks escape through suicide. He would like Chevonn to kill him and then use the gun against her mother. Others include a homeless veteran named Army who packs an assault weapon, suffers from PTSD and is pursued by the authorities. Dodging the police who are chasing Army, Chevonn retreats to the supposed "safety" of her mother's house, where she overcomes her inability to cry, using her tears to finally put out the fire in her soul.

John Patterson as the character of a glam rocker who calls himself God. He strolls through the subway asking folks to give up their avocado toast, Zero Coke, and Beyonce hitlist and walk on the wild side - for the former things are passed away. An abused teen girl, Chevonn (R), rescues a transgender boy, Emmett (C) from two high school thugs. L to R: Yessenia Rivas, Sebastian Gutierrez, Natalie Martino, Sarah Q. Shah. Chevonn's mother, Mrs. Johnson, tells her trhat she must take life's pain without crying--the same lesson her mother gave her. L. to R: Sarah Q. Shah and Jacqueline Chinonso Nwabueze.

The play challenges us to realize what leads young people to gun violence: a convergence of individual, family, peer, school and community risk factors. We are prompted to ask ourselves: are we desensitized or numb to the pressures our children endure, like people who stand passively by while tragedies incubate in plain sight around them?

As Americans, we are now struggling to find our bearings after two months of mass shootings--Las Vegas, the Baptist Church in rural Texas and Rancho Tehama Elementary School near Sacramento. This play does a service by bringing our focus back to the larger problem of gun violence among young people in urban settings. Interestingly, while mass shootings grab the headlines, they account for less than one percent of gun deaths each year. Here's a revealing comparison: The death toll from our three recent mass shootings was 90, but in 2016 there were about 6,600 gun-related deaths among youths 24 and younger.


A transgender boy (Natalie Martino, center) is restrained by an abused teenage girl (Sarah Q. Shah, right) from jumping into the subway tracks.

The actors are Sebastian Gutierrez, Jeremy Lardieri, Mohamed Madboly, Natalie Marie Martino, Brandon Mellette, Jacqueline Nwabueze, John Patterson, Yessenia Rivas, Tournesoul, Camille Upshaw and Levern Williams. Cast understudy is Ann-Kathryne Mills.

Written and directed by William Electrric Black. Set design is by Lytza Colon and Mark Marcante.  Costume and prop design are by Susan Hemley.  Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.  Sound design is by James Mussen.  Sound tech is Alex Santullo.  Stage Manager is Megan Horan.  Production Manager is Dylan Vaughan Skorish.  Percussion advisor is Jacob Shandling.