Monday, April 13, 2015

Columbinus—Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

Color Me…Red
This Y/P production at OCT’s home space, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., is written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli and directed by Lava Alapai.  It plays through April 19th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

This is about the Columbine high school massacre in the spring of 1999 in Colorado, in which 13 people were killed, plus the two assassins of self-inflicted gun-shot wounds.  And, make no mistake about it, all the language and grit from actual transcripts, diaries, interviews, videos, etc. of the people involved are included, with no censorship in the presentation.  Bravo!  It has long been debated as to whether Nature or Nurture is responsible the most for how we turn out as adults.  A play and film from over 50 years ago, The Bad Seed, concluded that of a child of a murderess, even though raised by good parents and knowing nothing of her background, will herself turn out to murder people.

But, the recent trend of caring teachers, civic workers, family relatives, et. al. shows that a life can actually be turned around by getting them involved in extra-curricular activities that build team-work, confidence, self-worth, and character in individuals and groups.  Everybody has a bent, a knack, a talent for something.  It’s just up to parents and schools to encourage and foster those visions.  And, to step up on my soap-box for a moment, theatre and the Arts are a great avenue for that venture.  (OCT, and especially, their Young Professionals Company and classes, are one of the best in this area, in my opinion!)

This play is graphic in its content but stylized in its presentation.  It’s done on a bare stage with minimal props to keep the focus on the story and characters.  Six Youths (Carter Bryan, Amber Kiara, Nate Golden, Isaiah Rosales, Charlotte Karlsen and Emma Younger) play a variety of people involved and Blake Peebles (Dyaln) and Thom Hilton (Eric) play the two killers.  And all the different social types of individuals are presented:  The rich kids and the poor, the nerd, the jock, the religious follower, the intellectual, the misfits, the artistic types, the outsiders, the intellectuals, the loners, the bullies, the druggies, the dorks, and the bad and the beautiful.  (I guess I would have been considered an artistic outsider when I was in school.)

The story follows the lives of these individuals over a period of a year or so, showing the build-up in tensions that existed (and still do, I’m sure).  The play not only follows the actions of many of them but also their secret thoughts when confronted with various situations.  Also neither of them blamed their parents for their explosive ends.  The incident can rightly be called tragedy because a series of unfortunate choices of these individuals seem to dictate the ultimate results.  But, to quote the Bard, “the fault…is not in our stars but in ourselves.”   

It was interesting to note the Eric had a chance to connect with a girl to the prom but parents objected.  And Dylan seemed to have a creative side in writing but it was never pursued.  Eric was also on medication for some mental issues and had an uncontrollable rage inside him.  Dylan was bullied because he didn’t feel he was good at anything and wanted revenge on those who laughed at him.  They both seemed to know they were doomed and choose mass violence as an outlet to their public suicides.

The other characters in this are very distinct in the various incarnations they portrayed.  For, young in experience as they may be, they are very professional in their presentations.  And Hilton and Peebles are extraordinary in their performances!  There is an intensity and fire in the feelings they explore and yet you see their vulnerability, too.  These are some young people that will go far in their careers if that’s what they choose to do.

Alapai has done an amazing job with this production.  I’m sure the rehearsal process was very intense as the young actors explored many of their own emotions from their own school experiences.  But it was also, perhaps, very therapeutic and cathartic as well.  She certainly has taken a sensitive subject and infused it not only with dramatic elements but being informative and gut-wretching, too.  I hope to see more of her work in the future.  And I applaud Dani Baldwin (Education Director), Alapai, Y/P and OCT for doing this daring work.  My hat’s off to you all!

A last thought, although it is impossible to put blame on these kinds of incidents on any one thing, it is interesting to note that in many cases, such as the story of Compulsion, about the two high-society boys that chose to kill another student just for the fun of it, or In Cold Blood, in which two men, intent on a simple robbery, decided on a whim to kill the whole family.  They were in pairs.  It was concluded that these crimes would not have happened if the two had never met.  It was as if together they created one evil being.  Could that be a contributing factor here?  Perhaps.  Interesting thought, though.

I do highly recommend this play.  As noted, it is adult in language and subject matter.  Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend it for teenagers?  Hell, No!  This is exactly the kind of show that teens (and their parents and teachers) should see.  I’m sure they are already aware of the various factions in their own lives currently that might contribute to another Columbine.  And maybe, by seeing and discussing these issues, another such disaster can be avoided.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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