"Another School Shooting Play"
17 Minutes, by Scott Organ, a Barrow Group production, is the latest run-of-the-mill play trying to come to grips with the rash of school shootings that have rocked the nation, particularly since the tragedy at Columbine two decades ago. Just in the past few years, New York stages have offered such works as The Library, Office Hour, Punk Rock, The Erlkings, This Flat Earth, and When It’s You, each with its values but none—other than, perhaps, Punk Rock—of more than momentary interest.
|Brian Rojas, Larry Mitchell. All photos: Joey Moro.|
One of these, When It’s You, is a solo play in which a distraught, mature woman remembers a high school boyfriend who recently slaughtered a bunch of students. The others, despite the frequent presence of adults, generally focus on students affected by a shooting. Organ’s own The Thing with Feathers, an excellent work also done by The Barrow Group, has been cited as thematically similar to 17 Minutes. However, that play, while socially relevant, is mainly about an inappropriate Internet relationship, not school violence.
|Larry Mitchell, Shannon Peterson.|
All the action transpires in a gray, oblong box of concrete and bricks, designed by Edward T. Morris, with the small audience seated in bleachers on either side, where it can see its counterparts across the stage. (Why, I couldn't help wondering, was that woman in the first row smiling all the time?) A few basic furnishings, shifted briskly by the actors, represent the various locales. Solomon Weisbard’s effective lighting, Matsy Stinson’s everyday costumes, and sound designer Emma Wilks’s musical backgrounds create an appropriate atmosphere.
|DeAnna Lenhart, Larry Mitchell.|
|Larry Mitchell, DeAnna Lenhart.|
Finally, his job lost, his pension questionable, his marriage on the rocks, his self-respect in the tank, he sits with his gun in the schoolyard as a memorial for the slain children goes on inside. We know what he’s considering, of course, but then one of the victims’ mothers, Cecilia (Lee Brock), disenchanted and searching for meaning, steps outside, spotting the deputy and his firearm. What follows may not provide a dramatically satisfying conclusion but it does, at least, offer a note of forgiveness. This isn’t something we’ve necessarily been hoping for on his behalf—whatever that might be—but it at least brings the lumbering play to its end.
|Larry Mitchell, Michael Giese.|
Throughout, the tone is low key and conversational, almost as if it’s being filmed in closeups. Seth Barrish’s naturalistic direction, which worked perfectly for The Thing with Feathers, is far less compelling here, where only a few minor flare-ups break through the torpor. While the intimacy of the scenic arrangement probably inspires this approach, the quiet, restrained performances—very well-done as they are—establish a dry, undramatic atmosphere.
Concentrating on internal character dynamics, the style forces us to lean in to catch all the words. It soon flattens out into nontheatrical dullness, making the 75 minutes of 17 Minutes seem more like 170 minutes.
TBG Mainstage Theatre
312 W. 36th St., NYC
Extended to March 1