Friday, January 17, 2020

The Burials

The Martin family members — from left, Ryan (Grey Turner), Sophie (Morgan Hendrix-Chupa)
and Chloe (Rebecca Hirsch) — mourn after a tragic event occurs at Sophie and Chloe's high school.

Acme Theatre Company is opening its 40th season with an excellent, powerful play called “The Burials,” by Caitlin Parish, directed by Emily Henderson.

In its 40-year history, Acme has never shied away from controversial subjects and this play about a school shooting and gun control delivers another compelling message that will have the audience talking when they leave the theater.

In fact, leaving the theater, I heard one group talking about how it was “the most real thing I’ve ever seen” and another sadly remarking that “this is the way things are now.”

The cast of nine are uniformly good, with Morgan Hendrix-Chupa outstanding as Sophie Martin, the daughter of Sen. Ryan Marin (Grey Turner), who is running for re-election.

The play is loosely based on the Greek tragedy “Antigone” by Sophocles, in which a desperate young woman single-handedly defies an unjust law in order to bury her brother, and is punished by being buried alive.

This is a multimedia presentation, with three large screens over the stage and TV cameras on either side. The middle screen is for YouTube videos of Ben Martin (Sam Cubbage), son of the senator, leading up to his decision to go on a shooting rampage in his school and end his own life. The one problem with the videos is that the sound needed to be louder; they were not always easy to hear.
Ben begins his shooting rampage on voting day, as his father is on television being interviewed by reporter Zoe Lucas (Jemima Aldas, who also plays one of the schoolteachers, Mrs. Souder). The ability to see each individually on the large screens was a wonderful idea.

The screens are also used to display the many twitter and email messages received by the Martins, condemning them following the shooting.

Turner is excellent as the politician/father, though the character is extremely unlikable. His feelings about his son are hard to accept, as a parent, and his treatment of his daughter, whom he has taught to think for herself, when she has her own strong feelings about the shooting and about her brother, is just downright cruel.

While there is no violence seen on stage, there are vivid descriptions of what happened. We hear of a pile of bodies and attempts to escape. Chloe Martin (Rebecca Hirsch), Sophie’s sister, also has stained knees from kneeling in someone’s blood. (Hirsch has problems projecting and much of her dialogue is lost).

Parish’s script tries to tackle too many subjects for one play. The Martin family must learn how to deal with Ben’s actions and their own grief, to ask how they might have helped Ben and how do they move forward, but, in addition, they argue about what can be done about gun control.

The girls return to school, and face ostracism from other students. Only Sophie’s friend Janette (Wren Arellano Calderon) remains positive and supportive of Sophie, though Sophie wants only to be alone. Janette, it turns out, is hiding anger issues of her own.

Janette’s boyfriend Jayden (Maya Bailey) is angry with Sophie and seems to blame her for his pain at the loss of friends. The fistfight among the four was done very well.

Brianna (Sara Su), a survivor of the shooting, seems to have the most reasonable feeling about the shooting and seems to understand Ben. Sadly, however, Su spoke very softly, and we missed most of her dialogue.

The only negative thing about this show is that there were so few people in the audience. This is an excellently acted play with an important message and I hope that more people will come to see it.

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