“Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech,” chant the ensemble. Violent shootings in schools now covers all grades, from nursery schools to universities. In this case, High School student Josh (played by the talented Ed Squires) kills five fellow students in his school’s cafeteria: One is his ex-girlfriend, another a former friend, and three other students who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Why me?” They ask him. “Why not you?” Josh challenges. In fact, he boasts, if his rifle had held more bullets, or if he’d had the chance to reload, more people would be dead and he’d be “a legend.”
Written by noted playwright William Mastrosimone (Extremities, The Woolgatherer), the Playground Theatre project, an outreach theatre company puts together a stunning performance of Bang Bang You’re Dead. Appropriately, this production is dedicated in memory to Victoria Soto, one of the teachers who died in Newtown while protecting her students.
While awaiting trial and then in prison, the spirits of those he shot, and those who attempted to help or hurt him relentlessly question Josh. We see him relive some of the events that lead him to his murderous actions. Can he pin the blame on his hunter lover Grandpa? Or his easily manipulated parents who wonder if they “raised him wrong?” Perhaps it's his bruised ego, or those who mock or bully him? Does he even care?
The ensemble cast is uniformly exceptional, energetic, and they adeptly handle the rapid-fire dialogue, never letting the pace drag. Some standouts are Summer Russo, Ryan Shapiro, James Garlock and Caroline Palsi.
The play’s sharp direction by Directors Ralph Colombino and Dan Cooley (with the assistance of Rich Palmros and stage manager Gianna Marino) keeps the story taut and intense. Under their skilled guidance, both the actors and the audience are engrossed in this tragic and violent tale.
Josh has a lifetime to ruminate his actions, but his victims do not have that luxury. They all wonder what the victims wanted to do with their lives, or what simple things they will miss- yawning, skiing on a lake in Georgia, squabbling with a sister are only a few of the poignant examples. “I wanted to kill you, but I didn’t want you dead,” Josh mourns.
I consider this to be one of the gems of FringeNYC 2013. Bang Bang You’re Dead wisely offers no easy answers, but it is a play that everyone, especially teenagers and pre-teens, should have the opportunity to see. These remarkable teenager actors are able to articulate for those who are no longer able to speak for themselves. We would do well to listen.