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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Columbine Project

My parents taught me independence and self reliance, and I appreciate that.— Eric Harris, The Columbine Project
Marc Leclerc, Tor Jensen Brown. (Photo by Emma Latimer)
Moises Kaufman and his Tectonic Theatre Company set a rather lofty bar for anybody looking to stage a current-events-based drama that employs the word "Project" in its title. The docu-dramatic telling of the death of Matthew Shepard as seen in The Laramie Project remains powerful, and that play is aging well even if America has found both old and new ways to show its ugliness beyond gay-bashing hate crimes in the rural midwest.

That we seem to have difficulty moving beyond the events of April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado is part of the reason that Paul Storiale's 2009 play The Columbine Project can be remounted with a built-in audience already in place. At the Loft Theatre, the production's video footage (created by Bree Pavey and Tor Brown) at production's end references our country's deadliest shootings, and yes, the February 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas takes its ugly place right up there.

Why remount Columbine Project now? Per the producers' notes, "There is still so much more to say." Yes and no. Storiale's play, directed by Bree Pavey, is not looking to offer answers or assess blame.

There are no lessons. The play hits hard and offers little in the way of diplomacy. Its twin protagonists, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, come across pretty much as angry screwed-up sociopaths whose havoc-wreaking rampage through Columbine High School 19 years ago accomplished nothing. Well, it accomplished nothing beyond causing widespread misery and establishing a sort of benchmark against all future school shootings will be measured.

Pavey's company, led by a brave turn from Victoria Anne Greenwood, effectively dumps that misery over our collective heads. There is nothing clinical or particularly introspective about this tale. Expect strained silence and weeping.

That Columbine can evoke tears is no mean feat since the audience knows exactly what's going to happen going in. Drawing from interviews, court testimony and historical accounts, the playwright goes to some length to recreate not only the horror of the Columbine massacre, but the awfulness of high school in general for the misfits, outsiders and rebels who effectively ran that school. Tor Jensen Brown's Klebold, hungry, directionless and socially awkward, may, in fact, be the most miserable of all.

He's got competition. Classmate Chris (Benjamin Rawls) is mercilessly bullied and teased by the jocks who call him gay. Isaiah Shoels (La'vel Stacy), an African American student, blocks out the racial taunts practically up until his murder. Brooks Brown (Dantzen Debusk), a videogame playing friend of Harris and his fellow Trenchcoat Mafia crew, somehow escapes payback when he breaks with Harris and Klebold. Testifying before an investigative committee lobbying to make all the evidence public, he says, "There is... hate of the government. It's starting with teens, and you see it all over the place. There is a distrust."

Storiale hops between events, not always in chronological order, presenting vignettes of survivors, parents, teachers, attorneys and students, and returning regularly to his two anti-heroes. Even when he's spouting hate or manipulating people, Marc Leclerc's Eric Harris conveys a kind of spiritual deadness. Shakespeare's Iago has nothing on this charmer.

If the production has a moral center amidst the bile, neglect and sorrow, it's Greenwood. Rachel Scott was a devout Christian who also smoked cigarettes, participated in talent shows and befriended tormented classmates out of genuine amity, not because she was looking to convert anyone. Greenwood presents this wise but slightly nerdy teen as a beacon of light that even tragedy can't entirely snuff out. There's not a lot of niceness at Columbine. Greenwood's very real portrayal shows both what was lost and what is still possible.

Unfortunately, as current events keep demonstrating, all sorts of things are still possible. Whether the examination is complete, and regardless of whether there is still more to say, The Columbine Project refuses to let us forget. Dramatically and with a heavy hand, it does its job.

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The Columbine Project By Paul Storiale
Directed by Bree Pavey
Cast: Marc Leclerc, Tor Jensen Brown, Victoria Anne Greenwood, Dantzen Debusk, Stephanie Jones, Bryan Rasmussen, Diane Renee, La'Vel Stacy, Benjamin David Rawls, Dray Debusk, Gary J. Clayton, Nora Yessayan, Madlyn Sweeten, Max Marsh, Devan Schoelen, Danielle Power, Barbera Ann Howard, CJ Merriman, Matthew Wayne Roberts, Bree Pavey, Sarah Nilsen
Scenic Design: Madlyn Sweeten
Costume Design: Linda Muggeridge
Sound and Video Design: Tor Brown and Bree Pavey
Stage Managers: Katy Laughlin and Sarah Nilsen
Plays through May 20, 2018 at the Loft Ensemble, 13422 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks,
Running time: Two hours, with one 10 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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