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Ripe Frenzy: What If Your Son Was the Shooter?

ripe frenzy

Elizabeth Ann Bennett (Zoe) foreground. Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson (Hadley) and Liam Springthrope (Matt) background.

Santa Fe High School. Parkland High School. Columbine. Most of us, if we follow the news at all, can recall the site of at least one schoolhouse mass murder. There have been 23 school shootings so far this year, so we're bound to remember one.

And some of us no doubt can recall the names of some of the shooters -- invariably young white men or boys, variously described as "loners," "odd," "withdrawn," "pleasant kids," or "good students."

But unless we're directly affected, only the most observant among us can recall the name of a single victim, at least until David Hogg and his fellow Parkland students fomented a gun control uprising.

What if our town was hit, what if our child was killed, what if our son pulled the trigger?

"Ripe Frenzy," the difficult play addressing a difficult topic at the Greenway Court Theatre, attempts to bring us into a world none of us want to enter: What if our town was hit, what if our child was killed, what if our son pulled the trigger?

Playwright Jennifer Barclay's play imagines a small town -- less than 3,000 residents and now 10 less than that -- which has put on a revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" every year for 40 years.

Elizabeth Ann Bennett, as Zoe, this year's adult stage manager and the Thornton Wilder play's "Stage Manager" when she was a high school student years ago, guides us through this world. We soon learn that this year's performance was aborted two-thirds through, leading to talk of tearing down the auditorium. The foreboding sense of why this would be starts early and builds to a heart-rending conclusion we can see long before it reaches us.

Melody Butiu, Elizabeth Ann Bennett, and Renee-Marie Brewster.

Melody Butiu, Elizabeth Ann Bennett, and Renee-Marie Brewster.

With Zoe are her two high school friends, Miriam and Felicia, played by Melody Butiu and Renee-Marie Brewster, who also performed in "Our Town" years ago and whose two love-struck children star in this year's revival, played by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson and Liam Springthorpe.

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Johnson's Hadley, a shy, awkward teenager, is attracted from afar to Springthrope's Matt, the stage manager's increasingly moody, withdrawn son, who is forever filming everything he sees. The jarring images he has recorded flash onto the stage, ever increasing the sense of dread for what is to come.

"Ripe Frenzy" attempts to put us into that place we don't want to be, asking us difficult questions. Was that gun we kept at home at fault? Was it "nature or nurture" -- did our troubled son come into the world with this twisted insanity? Or was it something about the way we raised him? How could we have loved someone who would do such a thing? How do we remember him now? Or do we erase his every memory?" And ultimately, "How do we go on with our lives."

We leave the theatre without answers to those questions, but only some sense of what it must be to give birth to a mass murderer, or to be friends to the murderer's family, or to love and admire the shooter.

Nor, clearly, does our nation have answers to the long epidemic of mass shootings. At best, our leaders pledge solemly to act, to tighten background checks, to outlaw certain technologies, to put police officers in every school, by god, to have roundtable discussions with every stakeholder represented!

And then not much happens until another troubled young man walks into a school room with a shotgun or a assault rifle under his trench coat and we hit the reset button.

And, as Robert Koehler recently pointed out, among our craziest notions would be to arm teachers: if even 20 percent of teachers took up weapons, that "“would mean 800,000 more armed adults in schools,” intensifying the danger of going to school beyond what anyone dare imagine."

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"Ripe Frenzy" makes an earnest, thought-provoking, but ultimately drawn-out effort to move us toward solving America's mass murder nightmare.

Part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere also playing at the the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Massachusetts, and Synchronicity Theatre in Atlanta, "Ripe Frenzy" plays Fridays and Saturdays until June 17th at the Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles.

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Dick Price