By Kristiana Rae Colón; Directed by Sherri Eden Barber
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.25.19
The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street
by Ken Kaissar on 3.5.19
The Cast of Good Friday. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: A terrifying and upsetting depiction of a school shooting.
During the curtain speech at Kristiana Rae Colón’s Good Friday, we are invited to take a collective breath. I’m usually not one for these audience participation rituals, but something told me that I might need it. I was right; in fact, I was happy when we were invited to take another collective breath after the curtain call. Bookending the experience with two deep breaths provides much needed strength to emotionally handle the harrowing tale that this excellent ensemble brings to life.
Performed by the Bats, the Flea’s resident non-Equity ensemble, under the direction of Sherri Eden Barber, Good Friday walks us through the dreaded event that has sadly become a familiar event in America—a school shooting. Since Columbine in 1999, Americans have learned not to ask if such an event will happen again, but when. The play walks us through such a tragic occurrence, from its beginning as a normal, peaceful day to the tragedy’s natural conclusion. When gunshots are first heard, the shooters are at a comfortable distance, and the teacher and her four pupils have the good sense to barricade the doors. But a colossal dilemma occurs when another student is heard banging on the door, begging for sanctuary. Does the teacher endanger the lives of four students in the hope of saving one more?
The Bats serve the play an excellent and terrifying production. They play the innocence of the opening scenes without an inkling of what’s to come. The experience is stressful and emotionally exhausting largely because of their exceptionally convincing distress and desperation. Barber does a great job of creating controlled chaos even before tragedy strikes. In the opening scene, the students debate feminism with a childish need to be the loudest voice in the room. As a result, no one emerges as a leading thinker; their teacher is anxious to dismiss them all if only to hear herself think again. But they are all quickly humbled by the sounds of gunshots and the dead bodies they can see from a classroom window.
The production is greatly enhanced by Kate Noll’s set design. Her realistically insubstantial classroom doors constantly remind us of how vulnerable these students are. And Jess Medenbach’s brilliant projection design demonstrates that physical reality is only one dimension in our twenty-first-century existence. The action that takes place online is just as real and consequential.
Without giving too much away, the play is just as much about sexual violence and the #MeToo movement as it is about school shootings. The amalgamation of these issues is what gives me pause about Colón’s otherwise skillful construction. When a school shooting is the response to unpunished sexual assault, is the playwright suggesting such violence might be justified? Even some of the victims seem to be momentarily recruited by the shooter’s cause, even if their support is simply a survival tactic. I’m troubled by the tale Colón spins here. Asking us to explore sexual violence or a school shooting would be upsetting enough, but with a cause and effect relationship between the two, I find myself caring less for rape victims and more for the immediate survival of the innocent bystanders who stare imminent death in the face.
Good Friday is worthwhile, complex, and will undoubtedly spark necessary and urgent dialogue. But be forewarned, even with the moderate use of stage blood, it is highly upsetting and disturbing. If your emotional constitution has been weakened by the various tragedies around the country, this play will offer no comfort. And if you’re someone who requires a trigger warning so that you can safely leave a room at peril of suffering an emotional breakdown, I recommend that you keep a safe distance.
(Good Friday plays at The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, through March 25, 2019. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7; Sundays at 3. Tickets are $32 and are available at theflea.org.)
Good Friday is by Kristiana Rae Colón. Directed by Sheri Eden Barber. Set Design by Kate Noll. Costume Design by Christelle Matou. Lighting Design by Paige Seber. Sound Design by Megan Deets Culley. Projection Design by Jess Medenbach. Stage Manager is Haley Gordon.
The cast is Delores Avery, Caturah Brown, Ure Egbuho, Raiane Cantisano, Clea DeCrane, Erin Noll, and Pearl Shin.