In the Imaginists' 'Someone Dies Again,' the Pain of Gun Violence is Ever-Present

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A man on his knees on top of a table stretches his hand out towards a man sitting in a chair wearing a white sporting helmet
Leo (John Craven, far left) and Ken (Stephen K. Patterson, far right) watching as Marty (G. Brent Lindsay, on table) sees something familiar in Javier (Alexsandro Bravo, in chair). (Robbie Sweeny)

It was 2019 when I first covered the Imaginists’ artistic collaboration with Hungarian director Árpád Schilling—a then-unwritten work examining American gun violence.

A lot has changed since that different, pre-COVID time. Yet as I write this review, in the wake of yet another mass shooting of schoolchildren, the topic is as painfully timely as when the Imaginists first conceived the production. The theater company first invited Schilling to Santa Rosa in 2015, whereupon the internationally acclaimed director learned about the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sheriff's deputy—a devastating moment for Santa Rosa, where the Imaginists have created theater for 20 years.

To women sit on a couch facing each other, a man watches them from a table set on the other side of the stage
Gena (Amy Pinto, left) and Maddy (Emma Atwood) struggle to understand each other's points of view in the Imaginists' 'Someone Dies Again.' (Robbie Sweeny)

"Schilling and [his partner] Lilla Sárosdi were absolutely horrified that the police would actually use their guns against citizens," Imaginists co-founder Amy Pinto told me in 2019. Known for co-creating generative work with a social justice component, Schilling understood that, as a European, his "outsider" approach to this quintessentially American topic would be artistically fertile and potentially revelatory.

The resultant production is Someone Dies Again, which, after nearly two years of pandemic-related delays, premiered May 20 at Z Space in San Francisco, and opens a Santa Rosa run on Thursday, June 2.

Someone Dies Again simmers with the effects of one real-life catastrophe after another—but after setbacks, public health crises and heartbreaks, it emerges from the wreckage filled with purpose. The production examines our fraught relationship to guns and gun ownership, along with structures of white supremacy and American exceptionalism. Infused with uncomfortable rawness, and juxtaposed against skillfully choreographed theatricality, Someone Dies Again not only invites its audience in but bars the door behind them, underscoring societal complicity with what plays out onstage.

A man sits in a cluttered room with duct tape over his mouth
In the Imaginists' 'Someone Dies Again,' Larry (David Roby) sits in his room, with his mouth taped shut, after an encounter with his brother. (Tibidabo Photography)

A gun is brought into immediate play during the first scene, when family patriarch Marty (G. Brent Lindsay) discovers it in his brother Larry’s (David Roby) possession. Larry’s been staying in the spare room ever since his trailer burned down in an electrical fire, keeping the handgun under his pillow as a good luck charm and sleeping aid. Its presence initiates an undercurrent of unease that permeates the rest of the piece. The implied threat of violence hangs over even such quotidian activities as a family birthday celebration and a trip to the grocery store.


This, Schilling seems to imply, is what it feels like every day in America. We go about our daily routines while somehow compartmentalizing the danger that casual access to guns poses to even the sleepiest of communities. The production leans heavily into these quiet moments, drawing them out like rubber bands that feel like they'll snap but often don’t. Bodies curl into themselves, not in repose, but in tense stasis. Conversations circle around pain and grief without naming them out loud.

The emotion that does reveal itself, early and often, is anger. Marty and Larry are angry at their deceased, vindictive father, who appears in Marty’s photography studio as a corporeal vision full of ham-fisted vitriol. Marty’s college-going daughter Maddie (Emma Attwood) is angry at his insistence on reopening old wounds, which are not his alone to bear. Marty’s wife Gena (Amy Pinto) seems hardly able to emote at all, but she, too, carries a reserve of rage that seeps out of her like toxic waste. As they roil in their discomfort, all of their palpable grief and rage obfuscates the charged reality of what's gradually revealed: their son and brother Miles, who died six years ago, may have not been a victim at all, but an instigator.

This struggle between this family’s need to “know the truth” clashes with their need to be “right.” It's a struggle that frequently manifests itself bodily. In one scene, Marty clambers onto a table and stretches outward, reaching for a memory of his son as superimposed on the body of a stranger. In another, the querulous apparition of his dead father (John Craven) crawls under the table and begins bucking it up and down like a petulant poltergeist. A lawyer (John Most) with his own agenda stands on a chair, asserting a quiet dominance. The neighborhood grocer (Yareny Fuentes) shuts down all but the most cursory of small talk, keeping her face pointedly averted, shielding herself from her customers’ desperate need for validation.

Two men, one shorter, white, with long hair, pushes the chest of the taller Black man
Marty (G. Brent Lindsay, left) pushes Ken (Stephen K. Patterson) away in the Imaginists' 'Someone Dies Again.' (Tibidabo Photography)

Where the piece fumbles is in its 11th hour attempt to shoehorn cautionary commentary about social media and reality television into the already sprawling work. While it certainly fits into the characters’ positioning of themselves in the center of a narrative of which they are not the heroes, the turn feels underdeveloped—more distraction than direction. As Marty spirals out of control in a seething microcosm of what Maddy’s professor (Tessa Rissacher) might call “white supremacist delusion,” the fact that he can’t help simultaneously gloating over “likes” feels a little too on the nose.

The piece succeeds best by revealing the dichotomy of the “good guy with a gun/bad guy with a gun” as the banal mythology it is, leaving unanswered the inevitable question: where do we go from here?

'Someone Dies Again' runs June 2–11 at the Imaginists Theater, 461 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. Details here.