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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Colombinus

Or: a marathon of woe that accomplishes nothing and inspires even less.


Why is it the dramatists tend to celebrate horrid actions of history. When was the last play we saw about a triumph of the civil rights movement or a response to some disaster or someone acting rationally to counterbalance an irrational situation. The rule of drama decrees that we fly first to tragedy, in fiction and in history.

I intend to be brief. Colombinus is not a well written play. Guerra and his cast have struggled valiantly, and in some cases made real breakthroughs in terms of character or relatable action. But you cannot make Bricks without straw. Divided between the recreation of the pigeonhole bullying of high school (and what kind of horrors the thousand injuries and insults of kids in doubt) might produce and the recreation of the stories of both monster and victim at the actual shooting, the play is a series of sledgehammer blows of “bullying is bad for you” interspersed with knife wounds at the memory that these events actually happened, with not so much as a breath of anticipation or a shot of hope for a better world. The horror and disgust drag to become monotonous. Not to mention the cookie cutter bullying scenes, the clever clever double play of the families, the over dependence on projection. It is a true shame that in setting out to tell this story the writers made something so monstrous so dull.


Not to say there are not moments. The memories of the those students who survived the shooting are well handled. No guns pointed, no music blared. Only memory and the bang of a fist on wood, simple tools enough to recreate terror. Several dance pieces, focused around the striving for betterment amongst the student body, though a trifle on the long side, got their point across. And as before stated the cast is valiant. The only relief to the tepid first act where the internal monologues of the characters and the sources of their woes. The cracking mask of Perfect (Day) as she tries to rationalize a nighttime tryst that may have landed her in the hot water, the screaming frustration of AP (Liu) who only devotion to his studies prevents him from becoming like Eric and Dylan, Rebel’s (Poladian) longing for some shed of real contact, and fenced in by those devilish insecurities, amongst other cries for help, for love, for reason. None of which ever have the hope of being answered.

Then there are our centrals. The conflicted Eric (Dengler) and Dylan (Sprowls). Are they heartless killers or misunderstood boys, furtherers of nightmarish ideals or rebels against a dystopian system. I wish the writers would make up their minds on this point. Despite all their woes and the rare moments of kindness they show, I personally can find no forgiveness for them. Some lines cannot be crossed, some acts are not even considered, some crimes are unforgivable. But that is my opinion, if you wish to open your heart to such creatures, that is your affair.


What can be agreed upon is the bravery of Dengler and Sprowls for living with their characters for so long. Dengler is full of a scurrying energy, his short temper always fizzing or delighted as he rushes through explaining a history of violence, to showing off his collection of weaponry to courting the attentions of Faith (Namm, well tempered and pitiable). Sprowls is sullen constantly stalking through a cloud of his own fears and hates. His rage, at his tormenters and his own inadequacies leave us wondering what kind of story his would be had he not fallen in with such company. If only he had finished that play reading, if only he were shown a lick of kindness. If only, the events that precipitated this play had never happened.

For a memorial to this tragedy, Colombinus serves its purpose, though haltingly. Our hats touch for the brave souls who consented to wade through this swamp night after night but not even their efforts, or the final wordless memorial at the end can drag a hearts tug from us. Within ten years Eric and Dylans exploits had been eclipsed. When will we see shows that weigh the choices of Seung or Lanza? And more importantly when are we going to see a show that takes these senseless tragedies and leads us through them to a space of understanding and redemption? Where sledgehammer blows are replaced by warm embraces and solum silence by tearful expressions of hope. When?

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