In 1999 two teenagers at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado, massacred thirteen of their classmates and wounded dozens more before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. Writers Stephen Karum and PJ Paparelli molded countless hours of research as well as transcripts with the survivors of this tragedy into the half-fictionalized and half-living journalism docudrama titled “Columbinus, ” receiving its Chicago premiere courtesy of Raven Theatre, and easily one of the most moving and visceral theatrical experiences you could hope to have this season. Half-fictionalized because act one, in which eight young actors portray a broad spectrum of teenage types, could be set in any high school, USA, and not just Columbine. Director Greg Kolack impressively taps into his cast’s youthful playfulness and harnesses their raw energy to infuse the proceedings with a relentless momentum and theatrical verve to spare. There is inspired use of songs (“Mad World”; “Bittersweet Symphony”) that illustrate as well as illuminate the show’s universal themes of teenage angst, and there is enthralling and stunning use of multimedia. The result of which is a grab-you-by-the-throat first act that is able to sustain its sometimes unbearable emotional tension at a fever pitch, so much so that if I was the parent of a troubled teenager in high school I’d flea the theater to go home and hug them. But then I would miss out on “Columbinus”’s distressing yet cathartic second act, in which the horrors of the Columbine massacre are detailed through the more traditional docudrama narration style. The best compliment I can pay here is that it’s a sign of a powerful performance that although you know how things will tragically end, you nonetheless dread and feel every minute as the show inches towards its inevitable conclusion. And what’s more remarkable is that this is achieved without Kolack’s strong ensemble or his equally strong staging ever falling into the pitfalls of manipulation or didacticism. By the end, I guarantee you’ll be emotionally spent, and all the more better because of it. Recommend it to anyone but especially a teenager you care about. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Raven Theatre, 6157 North Clark, (773)338-2177. This production is now closed.