Shotgun Players’ ‘A Small Fire’ looks for a light in the long tunnel of illness

Adam Bock’s play, written years before the pandemic, was inspired by a stroke, but has new relevance.

Actress Desiree Rogers plays Emily Bridges in A Small Fire. Credit: Robbie Sweeny

This story is brought to you by Shotgun Players.

Shotgun Players’ production of “A Small Fire” tells the story of Emily Bridges, the owner of a construction business who is used to being in control of everything and everyone around her. As she undergoes a mysterious illness, her relationships change and shift in poignant and revelatory ways. 

Though written by playwright Adam Bock years before the pandemic began and chosen for this season at Shotgun before the effects of long COVID were known, the play feels more timely and relevant than ever.

In this coming-of-middle-age story, Emily experiences the loss of her senses one by one — a metaphorical loss that has become quite literal for many people who have lost their sense of smell and taste to the coronavirus.

“A Small Fire,” May 14-June 12, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. Streaming on demand June 8-19. Ticket and discount information here.

“Everything that grounds her in this world is stripped away,” says Desiree Rogers, who plays Emily in the Shotgun Players’ production. “She feels betrayed and humiliated by her body, a body whose strength and ability she’d been able to rely on her whole life. Her physical power and ability are diminishing, an experience she finds frustrating and frightening.” 

Bock, a playwright who began his long relationship with Shotgun Players in 1999 with “Swimming in the Shallows,” was inspired to write the play after his father’s own medical crisis. “At 75, my father had a stroke and lost control of his body, which had been his great friend his whole life,” Bock said. “How do you react when you’re strong and then suddenly you start losing control of your body? As a culture, we’ve gone through that for the last two years, too. We sort of took for granted being healthy, and that went away.” 

“What do you do in that situation? How do the people around you react, and what are the new negotiations to make with the world?” Bock asks. “If you are strong and then suddenly you have to ask for help, how do you do that? Everyone experiences these moments, either by getting sick, getting older, or being in an accident. And then we have to figure out how to handle that, the sudden move from one state to another.” 

Director Mary Ann Rodgers says these challenges initiate transformation in both the characters and the audience. “There are no heroes or villains, there are only four people finding their way through a challenge,” she says. Emily and her husband have to navigate their long-term marriage through crisis. Their only daughter wrestles with loving and separating. A friend supports them as best he can. “It sounds so ordinary, doesn’t it?,” Rodgers says. “But it holds so much potential for something well beyond the ordinary. It holds the potential for transformation, for deeper love, for knowing what matters, and for knowing who we are.”

And that, Rodgers says, is something we’ve all faced recently. “How can we go ‘back to normal?’ We have to find a new way. We’re all learning how to be our new selves. We’re learning to live with others again.”

In the end, these changes and Emily’s struggle to embrace and overcome them precipitate reconciliation and renewed connection with her loved ones. Is it too much to hope that we, as a society, will find similar opportunities for renewal, revitalization, and transformation as we put the pieces back together?

“A Small Fire” cast from left: Leigh Rondon, Davis Dixon Phillips, Desiree Rogers and Nick Trengove. Credit: Robbie Sweeny 

The Shotgun Players are producing the play as part of their 30th Anniversary Season. The production features a scenic design by Emmy Award-winner Malcolm Rodgers, the real life, long-time spouse of director Mary Ann Rodgers. The production will be presented live and in-person at the Ashby Stage May 14-June 12, with a video on-demand available to stream June 8-19 with optional closed captioning. Assisted listening devices are available at the Ashby Stage for every performance, and Shotgun Players has partnered with Gravity Access to offer a haptic tour and audio-described performance on May 29.

Pay-what-you-can previews begin May 14. Opening night is May 21. General admission tickets are priced $27 through $40. Special community ticket for those experiencing financial difficulty available for $15 using discount code COMMUNITY. $7 M.A.D. tickets available for ages 25 and under using discount code MADTIX. $20 Artist Tickets available for working artists using discount code CALLBOARD.

This story was written and paid for by Shotgun Players. Shotgun Players is a company of artists determined to create bold, relevant, affordable theatre that inspires and challenges audience and artist alike to re-examine our lives, our community, and the ever-changing world around us.