"The play strips away the layers of stereotype and presumption surrounding adolescence, and illuminates the common struggles facing this generation of teenagers by using fiction to explore the events surrounding the worst school shooting in American history," according to production notes. The title (which is purposely lowercase) is the Latin for columbine, a flower. The Latin root means "dovelike," from the resemblance the inverted flower has to a cluster of doves.
The piece was created and written by The United States Theatre Project, including members Josh Barrett, Patricia Hersch, Stephen Karam, Sean McNall and director PJ Paparelli.
The first act, set in a fictitious high school anywhere in America, melds fact and fiction before getting into the specifics of the 1999 Colorado tragedy.
Eight actors "guide an audience into the complex world of adolescence as a group of stereotypes from any American high school slowly reveal their inner landscapes. As the characters humanize and discover their commonality, the play moves from fiction to fact as two outsiders become Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two gunmen who killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in April of 1999."
The acting troupe includes Anna Camp, Alexis Hyatt, Tom Sawyer, Will Rogers, Adam Mills, Trevor Vaughn, Stacy Salvette and Ashley Robinson, who are all students at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where columbinus was first workshopped in December 2002. The US Theatre Project writers started the piece (and founded the company) in July 2002. The goal of the eclectic troupe is to develop ensemble works inspired by factual events and trends. Field work is part of the development of their pieces. In this way, the troupe seems to be taking a cue from Tectonic Theater Project, which similarly addressed the murder of Matthew Shepard in a docu-drama regional hit, The Laramie Project, also seen Off-Broadway and in an HBO film version. "We define this work as a theatrical discussion rather than a play," said US Theatre Project director-writer PJ Paparelli. "It's more comparable to Brecht's works than to a naturalistic play. That's partly due to the number of writers [from various disciplines and ages] working on it, so it has different styles."
The play is said to combine fiction and fact, drawing from extensive research from Freedom of Information documents and tapes, interviews with Columbine students and community leaders in Littleton, CO, and the voices of hundreds of adolescents from discussions about the play all over the country.
The work is still in the developmental stage, and will be followed April 12 by a discussion with the audience. A New York reading is planned for June to gauge producer interest and further rehearsals will take place in Littleton, CO, in July prior to a Kennedy Center performance in the a new play festival in September.
The play contains course language and graphic descriptions of violence, based on actual events. Parental guidance is suggested.
The reading is part of Arena Stage's In the Works series, in the Arena space known at the Old Vat. Tickets are $5. For information, call (202) 488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.