Steppenwolf’s LookOut Series Presents COLUMBINUS by The Yard
Columbinus triggers nostalgia as soon as you walk into the space. You notice two chalk boards at either end of the playing space, a vintage projector like the ones teachers used in classes in the 90’s, and a pile of chairs in the middle of the playing area with seemingly no purpose. The audience is split on either side of the playing area with the front rows being a mixture of accessible seating and bleachers that vaguely remind some of us of high school.
As the show begins an ensemble member pulls down a projection screen in front of a chalk board and we are bombarded with a ton of clips from more recent school shootings. The clips feature kids who survived, kids who are protesting, the former Presidents trying to comfort the nation, and of course, the parents who have lost their children. The clips are rapidly edited together making it at times hard to remember which school shooting is which— probably the point. At the top of the second act these same projections narrow the focus to one shooting in particular—the Columbine shooting of 1999.
The Yard’s Ensemble
It should be noted that aside from two roles (Jyreika Guest and Joel Ewing) the rest of the cast is made entirely of teenagers. This is extremely impressive as the show starts and we see all of the movement and sound thrown at the ensemble to set the mood of the piece while introducing the audience to the inner-workings of this 1990’s Boulder Colorado high school. While most of the characters don’t actually have names we know them via their behavior, clothes, attitudes, and placement on the high school food chain. We know them from their insecurities, their use of profanity, and their monologues. Because most of these young performers are so committed to the task at hand it’s easy to forget that they are children until the end when you notice that the audience aren’t the only people crying. Quite a few performers started crying during the scenes where the shooting takes place and couldn’t stop by the time bows were going. After sitting through the beautifully done, but still upsetting, simulation of the major event it felt like a painful reminder that the actors we just watched were actually about the same age as all of the high schoolers referenced in this production (and all of the high school shootings afterwards).
Aaron Stephenson’s Sound Design transported us back to the 90’s from the moment the doors were opened. The show was littered with songs from Garbage, Will Smith, The Verve, and even a young Brittany Spears made it into the show to help highlight the various types of teens that lived during the 90’s. While all of the other designs were also amazing, from this writer’s viewpoint, Sound seemed to be an unspoken character. This particular design also did a really good job of identifying danger by finding hard rock (sometimes bordering on metal) music to underscore most of the scenes with the shooters.
Is This Show For You?
This show is intense. The way actual clips and footage from the shooting are used, and also the way the shooting is depicted in the playing space open a lot of wounds. There were a lot of tears shed during this performance and this reviewer imagines there will still be plenty of tears to come. However, this show is definitely a must see for everyone. Whatever your stance on the matter, this is a solid production that should be discussed and will hopefully create some important dialogue.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Through May 26
Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre
1650 N Halsted St.
Tickets available at Steppenwolf’s Website
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author
Sharai Bohannon is a playwright, and an avid theatre practitioner, who is very excited to write about most things but especially Chicago Theatre. She has a background in journalism and technical theatre and is excited that those degrees will be put to use in a way that gives her an excuse to leave her couch and brave this “outside” that people keep telling her about. When not on her couch watching TV, she can be found working one of her multiple jobs and/or hunting down a happy hour near you. Read some of Sharai Bohannon’s New Works on New Play Exchange.