Five years after the Columbine High School massacre, a theater group is confronting the horror with a play that suggests what went through the minds of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold once the shooting stopped.
“It is by far the most challenging thing I have had to do,” says actor Brian Lewis, a 27-year-old veteran of a dozen shows at Denver’s LIDA Project who plays Harris. Mike Holzer, 24, portrays Klebold.
“I could sense the discomfort of the audience when we came close to them,” he says, referring to a scene in which the teens play a video game on the front edge of the stage. Audience members turned their eyes away from the actors.
Such lines as, “I don’t feel any different. It wasn’t enough,” uttered by Lewis as Harris, did little to endear him to the audience.
“Bingo Boyz Columbine” moves forward and backward through time and attempts to re-create what happened before Columbine, the day of the April 20, 1999, massacre, and afterward. The play’s name was drawn from reports that the teenage killers said “bingo” as they killed.
Denver Post theater critic John Moore said the play fails ultimately because it doesn’t elicit enough disgust from the audience or provide new answers.
Still, Moore said that “Bingo Boyz: Columbine” may be “the most important and valuable project a theater company like the LIDA Project Theater might ever undertake.”
Real names, real dialogueThe two-act play was based on scenes created by the 15-member LIDA Project ensemble from a box full of files about the massacre, which occurred barely 15 miles from the downtown theater. The scenes were edited and turned into a script by director Robin Davies and dramaturge Tami Canaday.
Davies said the company was responsible for 95 percent of the 22 scenes. For the most part, the play uses real names and documented dialogue. The cast includes four high school students.
It is performed on a mostly barren stage, flanked by two giant mock school lockers. Small drawings of lockers are placed on the blank, white walls at the back with a screen at the top that shows a photo of Columbine High School.
“It would have cost $2,000 to have the wall entirely made up of lockers,” Davies says.
LIDA uses a black-box style stage because of its versatility. The 16-foot-wide by 72-foot-long stage, inside a warehouse, can be moved to accommodate productions. Seats can be put on the stage floor or on benches on a rising platform.
The play opens with a dozen cast members squirming on the floor with sirens blaring. There are cries about shots being fired. Harris, carrying a mock Tec 9 semiautomatic, and Klebold with a sawed-off shotgun, soon stalk the floor; students and a teacher hide.
Flashbacks follow, including an incident in which Harris is tossed around the floor by an athlete. (Both teenagers had complained of mistreatment by athletes.) As their rage escalates, they talk about getting a gun and finding someone they hate enough to kill. Then they kill.
Most interesting are the fictitious snapshots of what might have been said after the shooting stopped.
“Nothing went right, did it,” says Harris.
“Not exactly,” says Kelbold.
“There was nowhere near 250 dead,” Harris says, with an air of disappointment.
There also are discussions by teenage girls who say it was kind of cute the way the boys played off each other. The news media’s intense coverage is targeted with a kid literally spun around by a TV correspondent demanding answers.
Blood money?Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Danny, died at Columbine, hasn’t seen the play and said he isn’t likely to attend. He wonders about the motives.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time people are doing this to line their pockets off the blood of the innocent. Many people have approached me about plays because they want to be provocative,” he said.
LIDA, a “fringe” theater company, relies on donations and renting out its facility to get by. It frequently does shows others avoid.
“These shows don’t bring crowds,” Davies says. “We do stories that need to be done. Others won’t do them because they don’t want to take risks.” On one recent night the theater, with a 62-seat capacity, wasn’t even half full.
Last year, LIDA did a play on the Charles Manson family, co-directed by Davies who earlier served as choreographer for “Our Town” and acted in “Belgrade.” Lida took Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and made it “The Merchant of Auschwitz” in 1999. The bard’s language was used but cast members were either Nazi oppressors or Jewish victims.
“Bingo Boyz Columbine” runs through May 1 with performances Friday and Saturday nights. Davies said it would be difficult to take the show on the road, at least for LIDA, because of the size of the cast.