Monday, April 13, 2009

As many times as you’ve heard about the tragic 1999 Columbine High School killings, you will never see a more powerful treatment of those murders than the gut-wrenching “columbinus.” The play brilliantly conveys the societal pressures placed on developing teenagers that was the spark responsible for the deaths. Leave it to Stray Cat Theatre to present this play’s local premiere in a brilliant production.

The first act shows various Littleton, Colorado youths. The demands and the pressures of peers and of adults on these kids are revealing. It also shows how the stresses are handled by the students and how ineffective counseling is. It shows kids manipulating adult behaviorists, and how the kids explode privately so parents ignore warnings about odd behavior. “columbinus” reveals just how challenging being young today is. The play may also bring back painful memories of those years for theatergoers.

The second act, a most disturbing but moving piece of theater, shows how easily the two teenagers planned and executed the mass murders of their fellow students. It is unsettling to see how these two kids’ plotting and planning could have been sidetracked by adults if they better read the warnings of this shunned, teased, and tormented pair.

Created by The United States Theatre Project, “columbinus” retells the deeds using actual records of what happened before and after the killings in a “Laramie Project” style.

Director Ron May stages “columbinus” with so much intensity that the play keeps you on the edge of your seat until the second act’s graphic horrors force your eyes to close. May and his shining young cast play out the graphic murder sequences using a clever language. You see the bombs and guns but they don’t explode or shoot. Instead, the cast stamps its feet with an amazing fervor and with unbelievable loudness to indicate when the weapons go off.

An eight performer ensemble plays the various kids. Two actors also play the two murderers with spine-tingling and venomous zeal. You would think that Kevin Hermann’s Dylan and Brandon Wiley’s Eric were the two students reborn. The entire ensemble is magnificent and terrifyingly recreates these mixed up kids’ difficult lives.

“columbinus” is not for every theatergoer because it is so chillingly real in its portrait of society’s negative impact on young lives. But for those theatergoers who can handle it, “columbinus” is the most disturbing picture of reality to be presented by a local theater in many seasons. It continues through April 25. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or order online at

Grade: A