So it probably wasn't the most appropriate show for me to leave the theater with a bounce in my step, grinning from ear to ear.
After all, the drama columbinus, which Raleigh Ensemble Players gave a searing regional premiere in 2007, effectively grounded the worst high school shooting in American history—the hour-long reign of terror at Columbine High School in April 1999—in the not always latent sociopathy of the average modern-day high school experience.
But I swear, I wasn't merely dusting off an old Charles Addams gag as I emerged from Burning Coal's Murphey School space last Sunday afternoon, whistling a certain oldie by The Who. For, even if the characters they played were deeply troubled, one thing was certain: on stage, these kids are all right.
Indeed, rather than being the work of Burning Coal's Summer Theater Conservatory Program, this production sprang from the mind of Alex Tobey, an Enloe High School student who will spend his senior year this fall at UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. Given his casting decisions and direction here, his new school is no surprise. In this show, Tobey's eye for talent has served him well. Cherry-picking present and previous performers from N.C. Theater Conservatory, Enloe and other sources, Tobey has convened an octet of talented adolescents, with whom he's created a set of finely nuanced characters.
Given that Tobey didn't see the 2007 REP regional premiere, his choice of script is even more commendable. For in establishing the real angst and anomie of American high school students through a series of interviews in the play's first act—vividly enough to instill flashbacks even in those who came of age 20 to 30 years before—playwrights Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli's 2005 documentary drama ultimately demonstrates how closely the murderous rage of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris was tied to their environment. At one point in their video diary, Eric says to his future viewers, "You made us." Karam and Paparelli's harrowing chronicle has nerve enough to merely link the abundance of cause with effect, and, in doing so, points out the degree to which the words are true.
Logan T. Sutton's work is taut as the taciturn Eric, an intelligent boy tortured by the jocks at school and by his own mood swings, which he realizes are out of control. His psychopathology only fully blooms in private monologues that range from supremely confident to almost abashed at times. Alejandro La Rosa gives Dylan the wounded bewilderment of an adolescent who has learned a particular form of helplessness.
Alec Shull and Jason Cooper had us hating their characters, a homophobic prep and a jock who only descend from their places atop the high school food chain to push their lessers' faces a little deeper into the muck. As a character called Rebel, Caroline Jordan nails a monologue that bares the soul of a young artist who, though some of her dreams are already shattered, is still willing to work with what she can get, while Jacob Stanton finds poignancy in a kid whose intellect in itself is a freeze-out. Though given less to work with, Meredith Davis effectively depicts her character, Faith, a young girl trying to believe in anything beyond the present world.
High school's a gauntlet, but these emerging young actors are clearly survivors. I expect to see their names in future productions in the region.