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School Shooter
by Rosemary Frisino Toohey

Multisided Look at a Tragedy
Elegant drama taps current events, but not sensationally
J. Wynn Rousuck
The Baltimore Sun
February 27, 2003

Rosemary Frisino Toohey's School Shooter is an examination of ugly, heinous tragedies that overtake ordinary lives. But this fictional drama about the murder of four high school students by a fellow student is carefully crafted and elegantly written with a reasoned tone that eschews sensationalism.

Bearing strong similarities to events such as the multiple murders at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, the play is an issue-driven drama told in a documentary style. Far from a dry docudrama, however, the result is a moving, thought-provoking account that makes good use of such theatrical devices as direct address, multiple casting and occasional non-naturalistic touches, such as allowing the deceased to share the stage with the living.

A Baltimore Playwrights Festival veteran, Toohey wrote School Shooters specifically for the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, and it fits the small, square stage with its four prominent pillars to a "T." The first act begins with the four victims preparing for a routine Monday at school. The second act starts with their ghosts beside their parents at each of the pillars, and similar staging wraps up the final scene.

Directed with perceptive understatement by Sharon Weaver, eight protean actors play multiple roles on all sides of the tragedy. For example, Deborah Newman and Paul Craley portray the parents of the killer as well as the parents of two of his victims. Claire Bromwell delivers a spot-on portrayal of a Valley Girl-ish teen and also brings verisimilitude to depictions of an over-taxed teacher and a brusque psychiatrist. And Babs Dentz plays a grief-stricken parent and the embattled school principal, while also lending humor to the grim proceedings as a good-natured homemaker.

Although we eventually see the killer, he never speaks - a choice that typifies the way Toohey resists the temptation to tie things up neatly in the end, either by supplying pat answers or preaching. The playwright may not bring any particularly fresh insights to the issue, but the varied angles from which she explores it offer a powerful testament to the wide-ranging impact of a seemingly senseless, horrific event.

Show times at Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 15. Tickets are $12. Call 410-752-1225.

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