Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Bold ‘columbinus’ play and community discussion set in Sheboygan

Sheboyban Theatre Company Studio Players columbinus poster_1555771340614.jpg.jpg

The name “Columbine” continues to echo loudly. That is partly because of a remarkable play, “columbinus,” a production of which will be presented this week in association with collaborative events.

From Sheboygan Theatre Company comes this information:

In partnership with Mead Public Library and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus’ University Theatre, Sheboygan Theatre Company’s Studio Players will present three performances the play sparked by the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

The production of “columbinus” will be part of a collaborative educational event involving a pre-performance panel discussion and facilitated talkbacks at the end of each performance.

As playwright PJ Paparelli of the United States Theatre Project wrote in his preface to the play: “‘columbinus’ is not a play; it is a theatrical discussion. Its creators, a group of multi-generational artists, wanted to create a fictional world of adolescence, born out of our collective experience. Just as this fictional high school could be anywhere in America, so could the potential for a school shooting.”

A mental health panel discussion, hosted by Mead Public Library, will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, in the library’s Rocca Room. Discussion will focus on adolescent mental health – knowing available resources, ways to speak/engage with adolescents and recognizing the symptoms that can lead to larger issues – plus the effect school shootings are having on communities.
Additionally, there will be talkbacks after each performance, and panel attendees will receive a voucher for a free QPR (a suicide prevention tool) training from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at Mead Public Library.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 26-27, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28, in University Theatre on the UW-Green Bay Sheboygan Campus.

The performance contains explicit language, adult themes and violence. Parental discretion is strongly advised.

The production staff includes Ken Risch, director, and Diane Ellis, PPDC chair.

In the cast are David Colton as Freak/Eric Harris, David Quinn as Loner/Dylan Klebold, Timothy Peterson as Jock, Timothy Wiverstad as Prep, Max Heinen as AP, Rachel Brooks as Perfect, Berta Meyer as Rebel and Katherine Rauscher as Faith.

Panelists for the April 25 mental health panel discussion are Carla Vorpahl, school social worker, South High School, Central High School, Warriner Middle and High School; Katy Pruitt
Trauma Informed Care (TIC) coordinator, Sheboygan County Health and Human Services; Rebecca Rupnick, Sheboygan Police; and Julie Preder, executive director, Mental Health America in Sheboygan County. Moderator is Thomas Campbell, theater director, University Theatre, UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus.

***

“columbinus” was previously performed in this area in 2014 in a StageKids production at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. The cast consisted entirely of students from Door County high schools direct by Robert Boles, co-artistic director of the playhouse.

From my review at the time:

“columbinus” consists of two acts.

In the first act, attention is on the portrayal of individual characters as they go through a day in a fictional town. They are high school kids. Each is distinct.

In a scene titled “Alone,” each teenager delves into the deepest, darkest depth of his or her soul that screams back at him or her. A foible. One character has zits he picks. Perfect examines her midriff with disapproval, then forces herself to throw up. AP feverishly studies a thick SAT preparatory book, hits a stone wall and rips out a page in frustrated anger. Rebel, the gothic girl, cuts on one arm, then cuts on the other, weeping with each slice. Jock, the athlete, assesses himself in the mirror, flexes a muscle and scowls, and then hits the floor for frenetic pushups. Everyone has at least one source of unhappiness. Pain.

By intermission, “columbinus” is an unrelenting series of punch-to-the-gut impressions of adolescent life. Some of the characters’ alter egos are especially played out.

In meetings with guidance counselors, Loner and Freak say one thing to the counselor in normal light, and then, in red lighting, each viciously assaults the counselor with foul language and teeth-bared commentary. In another scene with a girl he’s just kissed, Freak becomes another personality and, in his imagination, spews his animal/carnal wishes.

In Act II, death stalks the Columbine High library as two killers, out of their heads with blood lust, mercilessly shoot students and then complete their mutant pact with suicide.

The killings are described by witnesses. A recording of the 911 call from the teacher named Patty is heard.

In the scene, “Aftermath,” a father reflects on his wanting to see the body of his daughter prior to the autopsy. “She looked fine, considering.” He speaks of kissing his dead daughter’s toes.

******

At intermission of the 2014 production, I left the playhouse to stretch my legs. Outside, a man from the tavern next door who was out for a smoke drifted over to me to start an interchange:

“Intermission?”

“Yeah.”

“I lived next to it,” the man said, nodding to the title on the marquee. He either meant to Littleton, Colorado, or next to Columbine High School. “How many? Fifteen?”

“Thirteen,” I said, not thinking that the man has included the two killers. I found out later there’s a bit in the play about how many died at Columbine and whether the killers deserve counting.

“They use every word in the vocabulary,” I said.

“There’s swearing?” The man seemed surprised.

“Oh yeah. And all kinds of sexual references.”

The guy skipped over that and told me details about the two killers, their neighborhoods, their parents, the make of car one killer drove, their arsenal, the reports on TV – the general aura of awful awe. He seemed gripped by the recollection. Eventually, after the man dispensed all he could about the meaningful event in his life, I said, “Gotta get back.”

The man parted with, “Fifteen years ago Sunday.” He remembered the anniversary to the day of the Columbine shootings.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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