American Roulette (November 7-24, 2013)

The play by Christopher Evans and Fredric Hendricks is about a school shooting. It is presented monologue style with a sparse set and very few props. Actors enter one at a time, talk directly to the audience, and exit. Occasionally two or more will enter together and interact. This quiet, unpretentious presentation intensifies an already highly dramatic story. It is one day, 24 hours, in the lives of 11 characters, nearly all students, plus two radio personalities, a teacher and a construction worker who just happens to be working in the school when one of the students comes in and starts shooting.

We are given highly personalized glimpses into the lives of each of the people. We see what they like and dislike, what scares them, what and who they love and what they long for, and what drives them up the wall. Many of the monologues are insanely funny in the beginning; some are sad and touching.

And then all hell breaks loose. Not a surprise; there’s plenty enough foreshadowing, just as in actual mass shootings we see many signs in retrospect.
But mass shootings never end when the shooting stops. There is an aftermath, which is gut-wrenching, poignant and revealing.

The notable aspect of this play is that it does not lecture or moralize. There is no attempt to drive home a point, political or social. It is just lives laid bare.

Most of the actors are young and relatively inexperienced. They have to be because the characters are high school students. They all do a good job of becoming their characters. These are tough roles to play. Austin C. Lang brings depth to the football player, Brian, and is absolutely believable in the most dramatic scene in the play. Sofia Sanchez-Muir plays the cheerleader, Megan, with sensitivity. Robert Bristol is delightful as the punk druggy Bonzai. Ethan Bujeaud plays a troubled youth, Robert, in a convincingly understated, almost deadpan manner. We see turmoil beneath his almost expressionless demeanor. The adult actors are outstanding, especially Ryan Hendrickson as the history teacher, Christopher Rocco as Mike, the construction worker who holds a dying student in his arms, and Morgan Picton as the wild radio DJ, Dan.

The director was a cast member of the original production, which took place on the campus of the University of Montana in April of 1999 and, coincidentally, closed 10 days before the shootings at Columbine High School, from which he graduated in 1988. The play has been slightly updated and has some regional references including, among others, a clever shout-out to local theater personality Michael Christopher.

American Roulette not well known. It is so obscure, in fact, that when I Google it all I can find is a video game by the same name, and when I Google the playwright’s name I find an actor and a British playwright, neither of whom is the author of this play. It should be better known. It should be performed in every town in America. Olympia, you’re lucky to have a chance to see this play.

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