Review: Columbinus at 1st Stage, Virginia

By Kacey Houghton


Time and Place: A fictional high school in suburban America, and Littleton, Colorado, day’s prior to and including April 20, 1999.

If the play’s title didn’t clue you into its subject matter, the setting certainly did. On April 20, 1999, two high school seniors enacted one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. Act one of columbinus, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, takes place in a fictional high school, as eight actors portray eight high school stereotypes, each also symbolized by a specific prop - A rosary for the ultra religious girl, glasses for the smart kid, a baseball cap for the jock, a makeup compact for the pretty, popular girl. It follows closely two young men, teased and bullied, who, in time for Act Two, become Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

The acting was a tour de force, each stereotype perfectly brought to life in Act One. In Act Two, I felt the fear and pain in each voice as they recounted true stories of Columbine survivors. Nuanced performances from the two male leads left me pitying or sympathizing with them one minute, and deeply uncomfortable the next. However, it was the production design that truly brought it home.

The minimalist set (designed by Kathryn Kawecki) was perfect for this production, chiefly composed of two bench tables, a handful of chairs, and a staircase. The starkness of the set seemed to underline the isolation felt by almost every high school kid. The costumes (by Kelsey Hunt) were simple but effective. Typical ‘90s garb until Act Two, when Dylan and Eric don the now infamous black trench coats and the backwards Boston Red Sox hat, immediately solidifying the individuals they portray. The choice to illustrate gunshots with flashing LED lights instead of sound effects was extremely impactful against the almost entirely pitch-black scene of the massacre.

In the final moments, the cast takes us through the aftermath - immediate, one, two, five, seven years later, and today. And finally, countless names scroll on the screen behind the stage, names I gathered to be victims of gun violence in America since 1999, as the cast writes the names of 15 lives lost at Columbine.

If you are in the D.C. area, I highly recommend this production. It’s a bold depiction of things teenagers face daily - bullying, mental health struggles, self harm - and a solemn reminder that we must put an end to gun violence in America.


Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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