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

Federal mediator joins Met Opera labor talks as…

Unions representing the orchestra and chorus of the Met Opera agreed to have a federal mediator join labor talks on Thursday as a threatened lockout loomed.

Local

Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.

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.…

Movies

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a refreshingly…

Marvel is sitting so high on a cash mountain that it's now thrown $170 million at the relatively obscure and very silly title "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Movies

Review: 'Get on Up' is a war between…

James Brown finally gets his own boring biopic with "Get on Up," but the Godfather of Soul puts up a good fight against the usual cliches.

Movies

Review: 'Child of God' finds director James Franco…

James Franco's 11th directed feature is a noble but sloppy adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," about a feral mountain man (Scott Haze).

Movies

Review: Alex Gibney's Fela Kuti doc 'Finding Fela'…

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney takes on Afrobeat god Fela Kuti in "Finding Fela," but fails to capture his unique essence.

MLB

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade…

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade deadline

College

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

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.

Career

What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.

Style

Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.

Style

Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.

Wellbeing

Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…