Friday, May 18, 2018

Review of The Yard's Columbinus at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Columbinus. It was a play by the United States Theatre Project, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, and directed by Mechelle Moe. It is about Columbine High School and two students, Eric (Ervin Tobar) and Dylan (Brian Baren), who felt misunderstood by their peers, teachers, and parents and decide to get revenge by planning and carrying out a school shooting. It is about teen anxiety and depression, violence, and the need for change. I thought this was a really moving, terrifying, and enlightening show. It had a huge emotional impact on me; I sobbed, I was stunned, and I related to a lot of the experiences that characters had in the show.

I think the movement (directed by Dana Murphy) in this show was very important. It added a lot to the story by showing you the troubles and suffering all the characters go through at some level. There was a scene where the stage was filled with everyone hurting themselves in different ways. They seemed desensitized, like they were doing it without thinking. One student (Danielle Chmielewski) was throwing up and another (Iza Rodriguez) was cutting herself. It was really powerful to see all of these topics tackled through movement. The ensemble interacted with the set (by John Wilson) in a very compelling way. In the scenes in the library in act two, they would take the chairs of the people who were murdered in that scene and place them in the middle of the room, laying them down carefully like they were bodies. Eventually they had a pile of chairs that looked like they had been thrown there randomly (even though they had been put down deliberately) to try to stop something. I've never been so moved by people piling up chairs.

In the first act, the show is mostly about the life of everyone at the school leading up to the big event in the second act. The second act is when you find out Eric and Dylan's names and figure out what they are planning to do. It is really hard to see these characters who were nameless in the first act and mostly seemed unthreatening turn into people who we know made monstrous choices in real life, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. There were these interesting side-by-side scenes of Eric and Dylan each talking with their parents (Joel Ewing and Jyreika Guest). The scenes have identical dialogue, but the parents switch roles. The disciplinary role and the one the kid is more comfortable talking to changes from one household to the other. I think it is really interesting to see both those characters' relationships with their families, how normal they seem and how innocent the parents are about what their kids are going to do. The show also played a video of Dylan and Eric talking to the camera about their plans for the school. They were threatening what they were going to do, but they are drinking sodas and acting like what they are saying is no big deal. They are acting like kids just goofing off and making a YouTube video, and it is absolutely horrifying to see the contrast between what they are going to do and how they act. They seem like kids because they are, but they do something that is absolutely horrible. I think these actors did a great job of making your feelings about these characters really confusing. It really impacted me to see their home lives and school lives and how they are just kids but they are capable of doing awful things.

This play is not just about the people who committed the crime, but also about the people who experienced it and the people around them. I really saw that particularly in three scenes. There was a really beautiful scene where the Eric and a fellow student (Rodriguez) are rehearsing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. They would break out of the scene to talk to the audience about the potential for a relationship between their scene partner and themselves. This is a moment that shows Eric as a person with real feelings and not always the disconnected and angry person we see in the second act, which is really hard because you see this person has real feelings but they are going to do something completely insane and horrible and stupid. When Rodriguez was speaking her lines, she was making the words Shakespeare had written about Juliet and Romeo also about this specific high school character's real experiences without changing the words, which is really amazing to watch. There was another scene, with a monologue performed by Chmielewski where she was talking about how her boyfriend knocked on her window and she felt obliged to have sex with him. And she was talking about how she wished her mother had saved her. It was really heartbreaking and well performed. It reminds you that this play isn't just about this specific school shooting, it also talks a lot about problems people in high school have that are more universal. There was another scene with a nerd, a jock, and a prep (Meitav Aaron, Victor Musoni, and Colin Huerta) and they are all playing basketball together, but the nerd is scared about not making the shot. It seems like time slows and the nerd starts talking about how he used to know these people so well when they were young and now they are looking like him like they don't know him because he is not good at basketball. And even though his dad has told him that none of this is going to matter in a few years, he realizes it still hurts even if you know that. I thought that that was a really emotional and well-done monologue about a thing a lot of teenagers know but still can't wrap their brains around.

People who would like this show are people who like turning tragedy into art, realistic teen stories, and sobbing your face off. I think this is a really hard and beautiful and relevant show. The show addresses a lot of topics I'm very passionate about, and it handles those topics carefully and well. At the end they give you information about taking action. I think everyone should go and see this. The day that I am writing this review there has been another school shooting, so it has been hard to write. I think it is very important that people go see this show but also that they take action to help prevent any more mass shootings.

Photos: Evan Hanover

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