COLUMBINUSBook by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli
Dramaturgy by Patricia Hersch
Conceived by PJ Paparelli
OhLook Performing Arts Center
Director – Jake McCready
Artistic Director – Jill Blalock Lord
Assistant Director/Stage Manager – Amber Lilley
Lighting Design – Jill Blalock Lord
Costumes and Props – Jake McCready
Loner/Dylan – Michael Ferguson
Freak/Eric – Matt Purvis
Perfect – Robin Clayton
Jock – Mitchell Ferguson
AP – Ian McGee
Rebel – Zoe Ann Zobrist
Prep – Andrew McVay
Faith – Ellora Lattin
Reviewed Performance: 7/28/2014
Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Constructed from interviews and additional materials, Columbinus is an hour long one-act based off testimony from the students, families and community that were affected by the April 20th, 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. Two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, walked into Columbine High School, killed twelve students, one teacher, and then took their own lives.
The show begins with a categorical look at the different archetypes you might find walking down any high school hallway such as the Prep, the Jock, or the Rebel. The cliché personalities are as reminiscent as The Breakfast Club until the focus begins to shift toward two characters in particular – the Loner and Freak. Gradually, the plot turns into reality and the audience becomes privy to events leading up to the massacre at Columbine.
Delving deep into the psyche of Eric Harris, Matt Purvis is volatile as the incensed teen. Purvis is frightening to the point of wishing my seat had been a few rows back. He pushes the limits, his bouts of anger and frustration going from zero to sixty in volume and his outbursts unpredictable. Purvis' first monologue puts his character on a fast track that doesn't slow down, each scene building stronger than the next. In many ways, Purvis portrays Harris as righteous, as when he speaks of the military or his parents. Even in the attack on Columbine, Purvis sustains an authoritative stance in posture and demeanor, showing complete arrogance and unyielding belief in his mission throughout the scene.
An equally powerful performance is given by Michael Ferguson as Dylan Klebold. Ferguson quietly builds his character with anticipation, the audience never expecting when he might snap. He lurkings behind other characters and avoids any eye contact. During the climax of the show, Ferguson reaches destructive and dark levels into his character, a place many actors might be afraid to go; the way his eyes hold a crazed look as he weighs each life or death decision, veins pulsing on his neck and sweat dripping down his face. His focus is unrelenting and Ferguson fully commits to embodying what was recalled of Klebold in those final moments.
Purvis and Ferguson's portrayals of Harris and Klebold are two performances not to be taken lightly. The emotional and psychological aspect of playing non-fictional characters that devastated and shocked a nation is a brave undertaking both actors expertly play. Both Purvis and Ferguson give a riveting and unapologetic performance that will resonate with audience members for a long time.
The supporting cast is equally as adept at re-creating the emotions and thoughts coursing through the student body of Columbine. As nameless faces representing the clichés of high school life, each actor is fine-tuned to their characters’ personalities and the additional characters that are gradually brought in and out of the story.
Robin Clayton gives the most genuine performance in the library scene, not only with her scripted lines but through her silence and moments when not the focus. Andrew McVay stands out as Prep, an initial antagonist who is confrontational and a bully. Mitchell Ferguson is another stand out in the library scene, his character weakened and hopeless in the face of his possible death.
Ian McGee is extremely versatile. As Dylan Klebold's father, McGee evokes a despair way beyond his years. Ellora Lattin is rightly cast as Faith. She has a soft presence that brings a peace onstage amidst the upheaval and chaos. Finally, as Rebel, Zoe Ann Zobrist adds a touch of innocent rebellion and attitude in contrast to the darker content matter. Zobrist gives another powerful performance in the library scene.
The stage is a blank canvas, only black and white colors present on the set. A single chalkboard stands center stage with a white projector sheet hovering just above it. Each actor has a black, wooden block in which to sit, stand, push or move around as scenes change. The utilitarian look works well for the subject matter and pace of the show.
The black and white concept carries over into costuming for the first half of the production. All characters wear white T-shirts with their label printed neatly across the chest as well as an identifiable, personal possession such as a lighter or a necklace. As the actors begin to break away from their nameless counterparts, color is introduced through everyday clothing. The characters of Harris and Klebold remain in black and white.
Lighting design by Jill Blalock Lord is succinct and clean. There are several scenes in which the audience hears a character's thoughts, which are enhanced with a quick switch to a colored overhead, signifying the change, a different color for each actor. The use of lighting is also an integral part during the climatic library scene, changing effects between spoken memories versus a re-enacted one.
A scripted song choice, the use of Gary Jules' "Mad World" creates the play’s underlying tone of dread and sadness.
Director Jake McCready doesn’t hold back or shy away from the harsh material presented in Columbinus, especially with the intimate theatre setting at Ohlook. The portrayal of the Columbine tragedy is front and center. The use of media technology such as live video recordings of the actors elevates the performance to new levels. Every prop has purpose, from the chalkboard to the wooden blocks.
The use of the screen projector to display the text from actual conversations and phone calls from the past is powerful and gut-wrenching. McCready’s use of photos of the real Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is horribly eye-opening in one the most haunting scenes of the show. It’s a gut punch to your emotions. The ending will leave audience members speechless and glued to their seats.
Columbinus does not glorify Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, nor does it use the tragedy of Columbine to teach a lesson in morals or some other political or social agenda. It simply presents the facts in a very honest and evocative way, begging the question, “Why?” Ohlook’s performance of Columbinus is powerful, moving, and an experience like none other.
Ohlook Performing Arts Center
1630 West Northwest Highway
Grapevine, TX 76051
Performances run through August 14th. Preferably for mature audiences.
Monday - Thursday at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $10.00.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.ohlookperform.com or call their box office at 817-421-2825.