ArtEmerson’s ‘Columbinus’ is for the ones left behind

ENTB_Colum_0918_5

Most times, we go to the theater simply to be entertained. And there are plenty of productions — from “Shrek” to “The Addams Family” — staged in this town that do just that. Sometimes, however, we go to the theater to think, to feel and to — hopefully — leave a little bit different than when we came in.

“Columbinus,” which opened ArtsEmerson’s fall season, offers a most compelling experience on the latter end of the theater spectrum.

With respect to the considerable challenge of bringing the 1999 Columbine High School massacre to the stage both tastefully and creatively, “Columbinus” offers a harrowing, uniquely human look into the dark side of modern American culture. It’s a work that now, more than ever, feels both relevant and necessary.

“Theater has ventured so far into pure entertainment that it’s become ridiculous,” says “Columbinus” conceiver and co-writer PJ Paparelli from Chicago. Reflecting on the impetus for the show’s production (which he began working on in 2002 with Stephen Karam), the writer points to frustration that he and other artists in his circle were feeling concerning the Iraq War. But with the Iraq War, there was no one single story.

In the case of the Columbine high school shootings though, there was a single story that was in many ways equally disturbing to the war abroad. The question was how to bring it to the stage.

““The Laramie Project” reminded theater makers that they have the power to effect change and make people think,” says Paparelli about the documentary-style theater landmark production, which dealt with the hate-crime killing of Matthew Shepard. “Columbinus” was created in a method similar to “Laramie,” using hundreds of interviews, police reports and descriptions of real footage to construct the three-act show.

This is not the first time that the production has been seen in New England. Some might remember an incident in 2011 when a Lexington High School production was canceled due to its controversial nature, but was eventually performed at the Huntington Theater Company. That was the two-act version, where the first act was presented as a collage of interviews conducted with everyday teens in what Paparelli describes as “a music video of adolescence.” The second act takes us to the actual school on the day of the shootings. Unfortunately, we know how it is going to end. But we have room to consider why it is happening.

“It’s about the adolescent world, disconnection from the adult world, the way [kids] treat each other,” says Paparelli. “Also, the way suburban high schools in America have this almost caste system, and how [shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris] were byproducts of that system—outsiders that become friends by default.”

Interestingly, a new third act was added to the play in late 2012. Paparelli conducted numerous follow-up interviews with survivors and learned that most were still dealing with the tragedy’s aftermath. His new act synthesizes these interviews into a critical epilogue that focuses on reflection and healing.

“Shootings were something that people were aware of, but they happened somewhere else,” says Paparelli of the shootings and bombings that have since become a part of our psyche. “Columbinus” makes no effort to offer solutions or provide escape but rather, he says, to simply bear witness. “It is something that the news can’t achieve.”

‘Columbinus’
Sept. 17-29
The Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre
Paramount Center
559 Washington St., Boston
$25 –$59, 617-824-8400
artsemerson.org



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.