Theater Review: Exposing Everykiller

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We live in an era of inexplicability. On a gut level, for example, 9/11 is inexplicable. But even before 9/11, the world was becoming more and more impossible to rationalize: the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168; the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales; the rabid and radicalized right-wingers who impeached a sitting U.S. president because of a blowjob; and the crisis of mass murdercourtesy of America's unquenchable lust for guns, ammo and violencein our schools.

Prior to the expiation of evil inside of Littleton, Colorado's Columbine High School that killed 14 and wounded 23 in 1999, homicide in America's high schools and middle schools felt disturbingly commonplace; one source I found on the Internet lists 11 such events between 1996 and 1998 alone. Each storyline offers a sad, sinister snippet: Luke Woodham kills three (including his mother) and wounds seven in Mississippi; Kip Kinkel kills four (including his parents) and wounds 22 in Oregon; Michael Carneal kills three and wounds five in Kentucky, shot while in a prayer circle.

Somehow, though, Columbine was vastly differentmaybe it was the extraordinary scale of the tragedy; maybe it was the devilishly meticulous planning of the shooters, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, which was only discovered in the sorrowful aftermath of the episode. And seven years later, there naturally remains a factor of inexplicabilitythe unanswerable Why? Columbinus, the United States Theatre Project's moving two-act docudrama at New York Theatre Workshop, smartly skips any attempts to furnish an answer, preferring to delicately duck it until the end, having used the same powerful docudrama technique found in such plays as The Laramie Project to show that merely acknowledging the question can be an end in itself.

Much as the Tectonic Theater Company repeatedly returned to Laramie to explore the inexplicable murder of young, gay Matthew Shepard and its ramifications upon the town and townsfolk, the Columbinus writers (Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli) made five trips to Littleton to try to make sense of the senseless. Yet whereas Laramie deconstructs the murder of Matthew Shepard almost entirely from the vantage points of those not directly involved in his killing, the legacy of Harris and Klebold is an apparently bottomless trove of primary source material. Klebold wrote an essay in a creative writing classand there it is, read on stage. There's so much materialwriting bits from Harris' journal; dialogue taken from videotapes Harris and Klebold madethat the core of the play possesses the dispassionate tone of traditional journalism, a patina of passionate empathy on top.

The staging of the play (by Paparelli) is expert: Amid a gigantic blackboard across the upstage wall that doubles as a projection screen, the otherwise-empty stage sports a few chairs, some tables, a couple of props and an especially nimble cast (Anna Camp, James Flanagan, Carmen M. Herlihy, Nicole Lowrance, Karl Miller, Joaquin Perez-Campbell, Will Rogers, Bobby Steggart). It might be too facile that Act I doesn't deal directly with Harris and Klebold at all; instead, broad-brush archetypes have been given to the actors (the jock, the prep, the punk) so we see how teenage rage isn't a Columbine creation at all. Instead, we realize, school shootings are symptomatic of something infinitely more sociologically scaryand that if we dare to blame Columbine on Hollywood-glamorized violence or the pistol-toting protectors of the second amendment, we reduce it, at our own peril, to a blip in time.

Act II, which focuses intensely on Harris and Kleboldwe almost wish the authors would stop using primary source materialis horrifying because the killers are the end-product of the broad-brush freak and loner we first met in Act I. All of us went to high school. All of us knew freaks and loners. It could have been any of them. The play could have just as easily, sadly and inexplicably been called Everykiller.

Through June 11. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St. (betw. 2nd Ave. & Bowery), 212-460-5475; $55.

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