High school interviews the basis for ‘columbinus’
NEW YORK – The carnage that erupted on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School had its roots in the uneasy yet not unusual world of teenage alienation and angst.It’s out of an examination of this turbulent environment that writers Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli have fashioned “columbinus,” a compelling, highly theatrical quasi-docudrama.The authors call “columbinus” a discussion rather than a play and that may be a better name for the piece. The evening is freewheeling, expansive story theater, maybe a little too rambling for its own good.But there’s no denying its devastating emotional impact. “columbinus,” which opened Monday at New York Theatre Workshop, is chock full of disturbing incidents, tautly directed by Paparelli. It uses the theater’s nearly bare rectangular playing area to good effect as well as giving an ensemble of eight young actors the chance to display their considerable talent.Karam and Paparelli are part of a group called the United States Theatre Project which conducted interviews with high school students across the country. Those interviews form much of the play’s first act, which is set in an anonymous, fictitious high school.It takes students through an ordinary day, from getting up in the morning to going to school and suffering the everyday humiliation and often cruelty of the young. The pace is fast, even furious as characters speak quickly, in an almost poetic shorthand, of what is on their minds and why they feel so alone.Types emerge: the jock, the computer nerd, the popular, pretty girl, the Goth, the preppy guy, the Christian good girl. And then there are two others, identified as the loner and the freak, young men who by intermission have been transformed into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the duo who will become the Columbine killers.As played by Karl Miller and Will Rogers, they descend into a terrifying world of paranoia, hatred and revenge for all the real and imagined slights inflicted on them. The two actors give unnerving, yet highly watchable performances. One moment they are just kids; the next, they are methodically planning the murders of their fellow students.The authors use police archives, interviews with Littleton, Colo., residents and Columbine students as well as the diaries and e-mails of Eric and Dylan to build an almost unbearable suspense for an ending that the audience knows will come. And when it does, the moment is shattering.”columbinus” provides no definite answers as to why the massacre at Columbine High took place. But it does ask a lot of questions that simply refuse to go away.
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