Artie Ahr, Justin Mortelitti, Stacy Allen,
Morgan Roberts, and Stephanie Weyant
in The Columbine Project
(© Carol Rosegg)
Artie Ahr, Justin Mortelitti, Stacy Allen,
Morgan Roberts, and Stephanie Weyant
in The Columbine Project
(© Carol Rosegg)
The Columbine Project, now at the Actors Temple Theatre, is hard to sit through, but not, as one might expect, because of the subject matter. Writer/director Paul Anthony Storiale's docudrama attempts to explore the motivating factors and aftereffects of the school shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, but his heavy-handed approach, coupled with several questionable theatrical choices, make this two hour-and-15-minute production come across as woefully amateurish.

The piece is derived from public testimony, journal entries from victims and survivors, and other information that Storiale was able to obtain about the tragedy. This has allowed for some interesting perspectives to be included that the majority of audience members may not already know. One such is the story of Brooks Brown (Evan Enslow), who was a friend of killers Eric Harris (Artie Ahr) and Dylan Klebold (Justin Mortelliti), and was persecuted for his association with them in the wake of the shootings.

The strongest elements in the show are monologues presumably derived from primary sources, while the weaker aspects of the script are the dialogue scenes the playwright has imagined, many of which are entirely unnecessary. For instance, a scene between Columbine students Chris (Bradley Michael) and Rachel (Rya Meyers) at the top of the second act just repeats what's already been revealed in a more effective speech that Chris delivers in the first act.

Perhaps if the show had higher standards in both physical production and performance, some of these scenes would play better. But watching students hiding under tables during a reenactment of the shooting is cringe-inducing for all the wrong reasons; the dialogue is atrocious and the actors leaden. As the two murderers, Ahr and Mortelliti each have a few effective moments but they sometimes seem to be commenting upon their roles rather than inhabiting them. Interestingly, the script has allowed some sympathy for Dylan, who just seems misunderstood and manipulated, but completely demonizes Eric.

While the play touches upon possible motivating factors that led up to the killings -- including bullying from high school jocks and the duo's propensity for violent games -- it has a tendency to present its issues both simplistically and sentimentally. Nowhere is this more egregious than the closing scene, in which Storiale has the one gay character in the show sing an acoustic version of "Over the Rainbow" as various cast members stand over the bodies of the fallen. The memories of the Columbine victims deserve better than this mawkish display.