Review by Carly Fisher
Though school shootings are often the topics of tv shows, movies and plays, and even more so, very sadly, the headlines on our news stations, few plays have explored the concept of inaction and legacy so acutely and intelligently as Scott Organ’s play 17 Minutes. We follow Deputy Sheriff Andy Rubens (Larry Mitchell) through the story, starting in a police questioning room soon after the violent attack. Tasked with standing guard at a school, when the worst happens, he finds that though he is trained for this and thinks that he responds quickly, he is paralysed by fear resulting in him not moving for 17 minutes. 17 minutes in which the shooter has time to take the lives of nearly a dozen children. 17 minutes of terror and injury and catastrophe.
Learning of his inaction changes Rubens and Mitchell navigates us as an audience through this slow realisation and ultimate self-questioning expertly. From the naivety of the gravitas of the situation in an early conversation with his wife, through the growing realisation that he is now public enemy number 1, to the feelings of guilt, shame and ultimately responsibility, Michell gives such authenticity and agency to Rubens - a masterful performance.
In fact, each of the cast of 6 prove experts at their craft through this show giving such emotionally charged performances that make this 75 minutes an Edinburgh Fringe must see. DeAnna Lenhart plays Samantha (Andy’s wife) with concern, pragmatism but with unwavering love as well. Shannon Patterson gives Mary Stevens, Andy’s partner, such a natural rhythm - she is instantly likeable and yet strong simultaneously and her believability as the one to save the day is instant and unquestionable. Brian Rojas gives a strong performance as the Detective investigating the event - showing a personality and simultaneous position of power with great conviction. Michael Giese offers one of the more heartbreaking performances - I don’t want to spoil who his character is because this reveal is important to his scene in the play, but I will say that his performance perfectly balances the desire to appear nonchalant with the reality of being completely traumatised.
Though all are excellent, Lee Brock was the absolute stand out for me with a gut wrenching performance as the mother of one of the victims. On stage for only one scene, the power of her captivating performance resonates long after you leave the theatre. Tears poured willingly - from both myself and those around me - as we watched a mother, a mother without her child, try to make sense of the world without her son in it. To say that it was heartbreaking does not give Brock enough kudos.
The set is kept intentionally simple but is curated beautifully to offer a wonderfully naturalist environment. I always love a set that really takes time to consider the small details and ensure that the actors have everything at hand that they would regularly have in each environment - even if it is, for example, something as small as a tea spoon. These details elevate the production quality of this piece well beyond the couple tables and few chairs that it initially appears to be. The Wine Bar at the Gilded Balloon Teviot is not the easiest of spaces to work in, burdened by a large pole in the centre of the audience bank that restricts the view of many, but the company works around it. Lighting and sound are used cleverly to heighten the show, never to distract from the main action.
And perhaps what is greatest about this show is that the main action really is just a series of conversations. We do not see the violence, it is enough to know it happened. There are no gun shots or superfluous blood stains, etc. We are seeing the aftermath and experiencing the very real, very human conversations that follow a community trauma such as this. Organ’s writing is, for this reason, extremely powerful. Seth Barrish is a highly experienced and accomplished director and this skilled hand proves critical to the authenticity represented on stage - nothing is melodramatic, as it could easily fall into, nothing feels heightened for shock value or as a tear jerker - this is realism at its finest and Barrish’s trust in the script and its ability is inspiring to evaluate as a fellow Director.
This is an American story with a universality that I think will allow it to continue to transcend the borders of its origins and find success in many other arenas. I hope it does. It certainly deserves to.