If you are interested in a play about the bloodiest national tragedy in America’s public school history, make a beaten path to the Fulton Entertainment and Paul Storiale production of “The Columbine Project,” written and directed by Paul Storiale, at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre in the NoHo Arts District, running through April 26th.
This docu-drama, which returns to Los Angeles after the Off-Broadway production was extended three times at the Actors Temple Theatre in New York City, marks the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people-12 of them students-dead.
“The Columbine Project,” which was also extended twice in Los Angeles after its World Premiere in 2009, explores the events from various perspectives before, after and during April 20th, 1999, the day of the mass shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
This play is a powerful, sensitive and philosophical ode to the victims of a system gone terribly awry.
Storiale, in writing that is immediate, realistic, deeply vulnerable, yet telling, seems to be saying that the blame for the events of that day, if there is any, must be spread around to not only the killers, but their parents, teachers and classmates, if not a culture and society that often deaden sensitivity, creativity and faith in something larger than itself, for a celebration of violence, money, fame, a place in history and superficial and dangerous sex, entertainment and success.
Truly, Storiale leaves very little of the day’s events undefined, under-analyzed or over-sentimentalized.
There is, indeed, a raw authenticity that runs throughout this “project” that makes the disturbing images of the play that much more bearable to watch.
In the end, we, the audience, are forced to look into our own souls and hearts for the trench coat mafia of our nightmares where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold pick-off one classmate after another because of religious belief, sexual preference or skin color.
The guitar played at the beginning is stroked again gently at the end, and in-between we witness two angry youths who say that they are not allowed to be different for which they say that they are punished by society.
Storiale’s writing is wise, intelligent and edgy. It takes us to the brink and back. The language is catchy, thoughtful and precise and the words melodic and moody. It paints a vivid picture that cannot be denied.
Given the ADA award-winner’s relatively young age when he wrote this play in three months in 2008 and ‘09, it must be considered a major artistic achievement, theatrical or not, and treated as such.
The playwright warns us that something like this could happen anywhere, at any time and by anyone.
Storiale’s direction shows the same maturity as his writing. It allows the actors to be true to their characters while giving birth to enough reality, passion and action to make for a riveting production.
The director of “One Night Stands” and “Dysfunctional Family Christmas” is smart enough to stay out of the way of his actors, yet compliment them with words of wisdom, grace and movement when necessary.
The language and direction point to a culture and social climate where massacres of this nature seem to be happenstance.
The only problem with the play is that it may work better if presented on a continuous time line (before, during, after) rather than scenes interspersed throughout.
Stand-outs in this mostly younger cast include:
Collin Chute (Harris) who plays every moment as if it was his last. In this truly naturalistic turn, he turns what could have been an understated portrayal into one of ardor, pathos and great feeling. His is a fascinating talent.
Nathan Shoop (Klebold) is electric throughout. In an understated performance, he displays enough confusion and desperation for ten youngsters his age. Shoop’s performance comes with a vulnerability that gives it a rare range.
Kimberly Jurgen (Mrs. Harris/Patti) shows an inordinate amount of compassion in this play. Even when we disagree with her character’s logic, we understand it. Jurgen makes the most of her short time on stage by relaxing into her characters and staying true to the words and meaning of the play.
But it is Hunter Cagle (Rachel Scott) who steals the show. In a portrayal of deep spiritual weight and emotional depth, Cagle’s vulnerability and sensitivity turn her into the focus of the play in a manner this critic has not seen before. Cagle’s strength of character and light-hearted exterior make for one of the most interesting and arresting performances of this or any year. This critic hopes to see her on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
All in all, “The Columbine Project” not only makes for entertaining and illuminating viewing, but also attempts to ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude does not happen again. Whether or not the play succeeds is unimportant. What matters is that this production is brave enough to force us as a culture and society to confront our dark side and demons so that we will hopefully embrace the angels and light of our better nature when we reach a crossroads or fork in the road.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Whitmore-Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood Arts District 91601 (Intersection of Magnolia and Vineland in the NoHo Arts District)