It's every parent's nightmare: an ordinary day at school disrupted when a student suddenly produces a gun and commits a terrifying, seemingly meaningless act of violence. A rash of such tragedies occurred last year, the most notorious happening in Eugene, Oregon and Littleton, Colorado.
From Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" to Bob Geldof's "I Don't Like Mondays," pop music has occasionally tried to delve into what turns apparently run-of the-mill kids into killers. Playwright William Mastrosimone has gone a step further. He's penned a drama, specifically for young adult audiences, about the social pressures that can lead to such an explosion of violence, and how other students can both recognize warning signs and cope with the tragedy's aftermath.
The piece, Bang, Bang, You're Dead, was first performed in April at the very spot that inspired it: Thurston High School in Eugene, OR. Now the drama will receive an all-student staging at Florida's Caldwell Theatre Company, as part of its 13-year-old Theatre For Schools program. Carbonell Award-winning director Kenneth Kay stages the piece, which will also use local high school students to run the technical end of the production.
Set in the jail cell of a 14-year-old killer, Bang Bang finds the protagonist haunted by his victims, swaying him from his embittered cockiness to a sense of fear and regret.
Months ago, Mastrosimone told "CBS This Morning" his son pointed out the shooting in the newspaper, leading his father to sit down and start writing the play that very night. Spokespersons from the Caldwell Theatre also note that Mastrosimone's son once came home from school and reported that another student had written -- seemingly as a joke -- "I'm going to kill everyone in this class and the teacher, too." Playwright Mastrosimone is best known for Extremities, about a sexual assault victim turning the tables on her attacker. Other plays include Benedict Arnold, Sunshine and Like, Totally Weird, which tells of disturbed teens who take hostages and then act out the violence they've seen in American movies.
Mastrosimone has said he hoped his play about the Oregon shooting would be done in high schools all across America. As such, he receives no royalties for the piece and requests that no admission be charged at stagings.
The Caldwell mounting will run ten mornings, Sept. 21-Oct. 4.
-- By David Lefkowitz