As an audience member, I walked into The Yard’s production of “columbinus,” presented at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre, immediately wondering why the set seems more a display of art than a stage representing a school.
However, you soon find out this creates a fantastic blend, blurring reality but “keeping to the script” of the actual event in this docudrama. Also, the initial set pays off at the end in a jarring finale.
Tragedy is a major thread for many plays. Some of the finest ever written are major tragedies. A tragedy, when done well, should put a spin within the respective mind of every audience member, making one think in a different perspective as they exit the performance. “columbinus,” written by playwrights Stephen Karam & PJ Paparelli, fits the bill.
The play almost seems “too soon,” but I have a skewed view via a first degree of separation from the real-life tragedy. The play revolves around Columbine High School and the massacre that occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999.
The date does not escape me. I did not go to Columbine, but I grew up in the area. When the massacre occurred, my best friend had just become an EMT. She was a first responder at Columbine. Her words to me, “I knew it. While I was in the middle of doing my job, I knew it. This wasn’t the end, it was the beginning,” have become sadly prophetic.
“columbinus” starts wide with a quick encompassing view of all school shootings since April 20, 1999, narrows to Columbine for 95 percent of the time, then widens back out. No one escapes responsibility – not the teachers, school counselors, court system, students, parents or the two killers. The antagonist in this play becomes an apathetic society bent upon avoiding accountability.
I was in awe at the amazing amount of action. Set changes were done so effortlessly for each scene via movement of tables and chairs to create a schoolroom, a cafeteria, counselor’s office(s) and home environment – “columbinus” flowed with rhythm.
Huge applause goes to Director Mechelle Moe, assistant director Jared Bellot and movement director Dana Murphy. The use of a screen for graphic displays of the too-real tragedy was extremely smart. Not that it didn’t hurt to see it, it did, but the projections hit deep with one central point – we have done nothing regarding prevention. Kudos to the hard-working, ingenious “columbinus” production team.
“columbinus” is long (75-minute first act; 45-minute second act) but only dragged near the end of Act I.
A monologue from one of the students about her sexual assault, while done well, did nothing to lead the story forward. The scene felt awkwardly positioned as if it was thrown in there as a divider between two scenes too similar. However, the end of Act I completely propels the audience into Act II.
Actors did so well presenting not only the emotional display of being a teen, but the often toss-off of adults not willing to delve into serious issues teenagers confront while in the process of maturing.
The cast, all of whom deserve plaudits, features (in alphabetical order) Meitav Aaron, Brian Baren, Alex Brinkman, Danielle Chemiewski, Joel Ewing, Jyreika Guest, Thavorey Hang, Rory Hayes, Colin Huerta, Liliana Mastroianni, Victor Musoni, Azalia Resendiz, Iza Rodriguez, Erol Ibrahimovic, Cleo Shine, Ervin Tobar and Elodie Tougne.
“columbinus” provides a glimpse into what happened, how the tragedy came to be with a perspective that makes one think. It’s a glimpse I highly recommend your eyes, ears and thoughts indulge.
• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose Certificate of Completion sheet of paper from Second City’s Improv program. Published works include “Crystal Lake: incorporation of a city 1914-2014.”