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Chicago Theatre Review: Columbinus

Columbinus: A Visceral Re-Mount Of A Modern-American Tragedy
Director:  PJ Paparelli
Playwright: Stephen Karam & PJ Paparelli
Dramaurgy: Patricia Hersch
Cast: Matt Bausone, Rob Fenton, Eric Folks, Leah Raidt, Jerod Haynes, Kelly O’ Sullivan, Tyler Ravelson and Saideh Rifai

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Criticized, studied and known as possibly one of the worst and most notorious school massacres in recent years, the Columbine tragedy didn’t just stand for the Pre-9/11 World in which Americans used to wear blinders, it  was an event which really proved that the youth of America were being overlooked and crying out for help. Now years past that dark day, Columbinus, the P.J. Paparelli & Stephen Karam’s live docu-drama is experiencing a re-staging of the the events, community and people directly effected by the horrific act which took the lives of 12 students and one teacher in Littleton, Colorado  and has landed within the intimate American Theatre Company like a giant blast of cold air.

Paparelli has staged a gripping piece that keeps its audience attentive without being too frantic. The performance has been well thought-out and exceeds the natural inclinations that come with telling stories about disaster. William Boles’ set design – like that of our shooters – is a sheer surprise as the audience is given an unfolding of layers over time, esp. in conjunction with this production’s use of various visual and audio conventions. The use of visual graphics, musical score, audio design and distinct lighting lead the production to a very specific time/place – this may be the largest hurdle however; the project does occasionally give a feeling that everything is a bit TOO calculated and perfect, but then again – when you are dealing with two characters as pin-point which Harris and Klebold were, calculated may just be exactly what you want.  However the case may be the experience and information told is still just as powerful. In fact, unlike hardly any other performance I have seen in the past 10 years when the Second Act ended, nobody in the audience moved – No applause, no talking, just nothing.

The Actors who physically resembled the shooters also seem to scare-fully  (if you can say it in an artistic way) align their personal cores to the real life characters. Matt Bausone’s Eric Harris was as cold and calculating as they come.  To see the dissension into darkness which Bausone is able to draw from proves he’s not only a fully committed actor to his craft but shows a character that had decided there were no boundaries too large that could stop the goal at hand. Poised as the tall, lanky and with what may (or may not) have been a chosen slower-speech patterned teen was the frustrated Dylan Klebold, played by Eric Folks. The immense intensity which Folks has presented in this work is a wonderful surprise given that the Actor could have gone the way of archetypical “loner” for these type of genre pieces, and still walked away with some praise and back-patting.  Folks brings a calculation to the veracity at hand, placing the plot & emotional points in their right containers and using them as needed for his journey.  The performance is exceptionally intriguing.

So should you see it? That all depends. For all intense purposes, I would say hands down – yes, but also know that this isn’t going to be Our Town – you have to know what you are going in for. Paparelli has mounted his best work in years on the ATC boards – far doing away with anything remotely close to inauthentic, manipulative or cheap. If anything Columbinus gives us a real and honest look at who the two people were who were able to do the unthinkable; While I hesitate to say it humanizes them, the piece at least breaks down what seemed to have broke the camel’s back and gives it’s audience a way to at least analyze what once was mysterious.

Fresh Roasted Rating: A

– Matt Miles, Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

American Theatre Company Presents Columbinus
At ATC, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, tickets $38 – $43, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with 2 intermissions, through March 10, 2013

Photo Credit:
Image 1 – Michael Brosilow

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