"Tragic events are inextricably linked with their location; such that the mere mention of a town or school brings a flood of images and emotions. Pearl Harbor, Jonestown, Oklahoma City, Kent State, Sandy Hook, and so on.
One word in particular symbolizes not only an event, but an entire type of tragedy: Columbine.
A ticket to attend a docu-drama about the Columbine High School massacre sounds more like homework than entertainment. The 2005 play columbinus, by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli of the United States Theatre Project, is a relentless emotional assault on its audience. Eight actors embody a collection of high school archetypes right out of The Breakfast Club.
The new Social Justice Theater of the Carolinas, a project of Tammy Matthews--artistic director of Pittsboro Youth Theatre and Chatham Community Players--has chosen to grab this heavy and decidedly mature material with both hands.
The cast, alumni of Pittsboro Youth Theatre, features Eden Priddle (Prep), Hannah Conners (Rebel) and Ethan Galiger (Jock) give glimpses of their inner demons while Alayna McLandsborough (Faith) and India Nkamp (Perfect) deliver nuanced and bold interpretations on par with many local adult actors.
Abi Dasher is a surprisingly mature A.P. (Advanced Placement), finding depth in a character with little dimension on the page. A subtle Jake Dusenberry channels real-life Dylan Klebold (“Loner”) while production stand-out Jacqui Anthenien brings the cold, unsound Eric Harris (“Freak”) to the foreground with a truly terrifying, yet sympathetic rendering.
A touring production, not all venues will be ideal for Tammy Matthews’s nicely fluid and media-inclusive direction. Projections against the black curtains of Carrboro's ArtsCenter are unclear and, thus, ineffective. Limited wing space makes entrances and exits awkward. Lighting at the ArtsCenter is limiting, but technical director Craig Witter’s spotlight work helps fill in the gaps.
Matthews keeps the show in perpetual motion, never letting us feel its 2.5-hour runtime, and the in-sync cast never stumbles. Though the play and production are fraught with 1990s clichés, this young troupe always plays the truth of the present moment, making columbinus feel more disturbingly relevant than we wish it was.
While not as polished as it might be, and with some young artists still finding their footing, SJTC’s columbinus should be mandatory viewing for parents and educators, particularly those who value gun rights over human rights, or refuse to listen when David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas HS shooting, begs for leaders to take notice. “He’s just a kid” they argue. Meaning, the one dodging bullets.
These sharp teens are passionate, pissed-off, and persuasive. They weren’t even alive when Columbine happened. But here they are, on stage, begging for their lives, demanding recognition for the 240,000 students who’ve experienced school shootings in the U.S. since that April morning in Colorado 21 years ago. This production should be supported and attended, including the post-show conversation. They want to talk to you. It’s time to shut up and listen."
-- D. K. Britt