GRAPEVINE Stephen Karam and PJ Paparellis 2005 play Columbinus takes a documentary-theater approach to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which is harrowing enough. Yet in 2014, after weve been through many more of these shootings, notably Newtown, the play takes on an almost sensationalistic sheen.
But thats more a reflection of American society than it is of the play itself, which uses transcripts from testimonies of survivors and imagines what led the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, known as the Trenchcoat Mafia, to plot and carry out their brutal actions.
The play is getting an uneven production at Ohlook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine, a youth theater that normally focuses on musicals but never shies away from risk. Columbinus, helmed by Jake McCready, whos making in-roads in directing, is performed on a Monday-Thursday cycle (the musicals are on the weekend), and judging from the Tuesday-night audience, is important hot-topic material for the audience of mostly teenagers and their parents.
It begins with a few large blocks and a blackboard as the actors enter and put on white T-shirts emblazoned with words that denote a stereotype of high school students.
Robin Clayton is Perfect; Mitchell Ferguson, Jock; Ian McGee, AP (smart kid); Zoe Ann Zobrist, the cigarette-wielding Rebel; Andrew McVay, Prep (do they still use the word prep?); and Ellora Lattin is Faith, the good Christian girl.
Not surprisingly, the kids with the Loner and Freak shirts become killers Dylan and Eric (Michael Ferguson and Matt Purvis, respectively),
About halfway through the hourlong work, as we get to know the students better, theyre humanized by adding more character-defining clothes so theyre not blanket stereotypes anymore. Additional articles are donned sports jackets, sweaters when the actors play non-student characters such as parents and counselors.
The play doesnt shy away from portraying the lengthy act of murder, as Eric and Dylan have been adding black clothing and trench coats, and preparing their guns and Molotov cocktails. Then, they enter the school. The final scene in the library, where they killed 10 students and then committed suicide, is especially unnerving.
McCready adds some smart touches, such as having Purvis and Michael Ferguson slap their palms on the blackboard to stand in for gunshots (its such a tiny space, the mere sight of guns is bad enough); and theres good use of digital projections, at one point showing an online chat conversation between the killers, and later, photos of the real murderers and their victims.
The cast, a mix of college and high school students, with one adult professional (Purvis, the shows standout, has extensive stage credits around town), shows a range of experience level. A few of them, notably Zobrist, would benefit from greater projection its a tiny space, but the A/C is loud.
Thats the beauty of Ohlook, which is expanding its size by taking over the neighboring strip-mall space. Its a place where students learn the craft of theater, and by selecting thematically tough works like this, the audience is given something to think about.
Thats notable. The play isnt presented in an overly didactic manner the issue of gun control is never brought up but it will give audiences a reason to explore the larger conversation.