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Theatre Review (LA): The Columbine Project by Paul Storiale

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Ten years ago the United States witnessed one of the worst tragedies in modern history. The attack by two deeply disturbed and alienated students from Columbine High School, which left twelve students and one teacher dead, deeply shocked the nation and acted as a wake-up call asking us to reexamine our educational system and the unhealthy environment that exists in the nation's schools.

A new play by Paul Storiale called The Columbine Project examines the events and the possible motives of the people involved. By doing an incredible amount or research into the eyewitness accounts as well as the personal diaries of the killers and the victims, Storiale has created a gripping, gut-wrenching play that left many in the audience stunned and weeping.

The story recounts how a sociopathic young man, Eric Harris, together with a weak-willed but intellectual follower, Dylan Klebold, systematically hatched a plot to kill 250 of their fellow students and teachers to gain revenge for being ignored and/or mistreated and to create a crime so heinous that a video game would be made of their slaughter. Storiale does not sentimentalize their story but shows how even good parents and alert teachers could have missed the underlying alienation these boys suffered.

He makes no excuse for their actions, instead laying out several “reasons” for them: violent video games; peer pressure and an atmosphere where all but the jocks were called “faggot”; common teenage anxiety and the desire to belong; the silence of school officials in the face of the alienation and abuse happening under their noses; parents' desire to trust their children, which can blind them to how their kids can manipulate them; and the overall violence in our society as a whole. Through heartbreaking passages from diaries, recreations of the scene inside the school, the 911 calls, and court proceedings, this sad tale is told.

The cast is generally quite good, especially the two boys who play Eric (a chilling Artie Ahr) and Dylan (a sensitive Justin Mortelliti). Rya Meyers plays the devout Christian girl with the good heart, Rachel Scott, who was the first victim. Her reading of her diary was a highlight. Evan Enslow was strong as the boys' friend Brooks Brown. Marguerite Wiseman was especially powerful as the mother of a black student who was brutally murdered solely because he was black.

The play still needs some tweaking, and the broad stage and the need to get furniture on and off made some of the staging slow. A better set might have solved some of the problem. The Columbine Project plays at the Avery Schreiber Theatre until May 16th.

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About Robert Machray

  • Columbine Family

    Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were raped during an arrest for breaking into a van.
    We know this and have court testimony that backs this up. Children are in danger evidenced by the recent attempt to bomb the Jocks’ table at Newton middle school. It wasn’t about the jocks, it was about the COPS. If you want to learn more google, live leak, you tube Columbine family request.

  • dharmagirl

    This topic is surely one to be examined by adults, but I also believe benefit would come from examination at an earlier age as well. I wanted to bring all the young boys I know and then have discussion times.. This is a discussion that needs to be had and I applaud Storiale and his cast(s) for being brave enough to dig into this one… they certainly left me thinking…. and yes… wiping the tears. I really wish I could bring the principal of my son’s school for a wake up visit to Off Broadway.

  • Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls their weapon) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is fired) is only 5 seconds. If it is the intent of a school district to react to this violence, they will do so over the wounded and/or slain bodies of students, teachers and administrators.

    Educational institutions clearly want safe and secure schools. Administrators are perennially queried by parents about the safety of their schools. The commonplace answers, intended to reassure anxious parents, focus on the school resource officers and emergency procedures. While useful, these less than adequate efforts do not begin to provide a definitive answer to preventing school violence, nor do they make a school safe and secure.

    Traditionally school districts have relied upon the mental health community or local police to keep schools safe, yet one of the key shortcomings has been the lack of a system that involves teachers, administrators, parents and students in the identification and communication process. Recently, colleges, universities and community colleges are forming Behavioral Intervention Teams with representatives from all these constituencies. Higher Education has changed their safety/security policies, procedures, or surveillance systems, yet K-12 have yet to incorporate Behavioral Intervention Teams. K-12 schools continue spending excessive amounts of money to put in place many of the physical security options. Sadly, they are reactionary only and do little to prevent aggression because they are designed exclusively to react to existing conflict, threat and violence. These schools reflect a national blindspot, which prefers hardening targets through enhanced security versus preventing violence with efforts directed at aggressors. Security gets all the focus and money, but this only makes us feel safe, rather than to actually make us safer.

    Some law enforcement agencies use profiling as a means to identify an aggressor. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression; “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.” We can and must assess objective, culturally neutral, identifiable criteria of emerging aggression.

    For a comprehensive look at the problem and its solution.