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Entertainment & Arts

Review:  ‘The Why’ revival at Blank Theatre sparks fresh questions

Review: ‘The Why,’ a young Victor Kaufold’s response to Columbine, is in revival at the Blank Theatre, and tragically, it hasn’t lost its currency
Jeff Witzke, from left, Ben Crowley and Jen Landon star in a revival of “The Why” at the Blank Theatre, the site of the comedic play’s world premiere in 2000.
(Anne McGrath)
Theater Critic

Comedy isn’t the genre that springs to mind when one thinks of school shootings. But that is the unusual — and not insensitive route — Victor Kaufold, a fledgling 19-year-old playwright, took in responding to the tragedy that has come to be known simply and mournfully as Columbine.

“The Why” is currently being revived at the Blank Theatre where it had its world premiere in 2000, and it is our national disgrace that the play’s spiraling satire hasn’t lost its currency in the intervening years. In terms of playwriting craft, this is the work of a novice, but a thoughtful novice who knows the gadfly sting of laughter.

Mixing what might be called tragic farce with psychological inquiry, this multi-pronged, rapid-fire investigation (performed with all-out sketch-comedy attack by Ben Crowley, Nicholas Cutro, Jen Landon and Jeff Witzke) is better at parodying the media than cracking the mind-set of a disaffected teenage killer.

A succession of scenes examines the cultural reaction to these routine bloodbaths, with pundits yammering at cross-purposes and “Murder News” wringing ratings out of grief and horror. Landon has the phony vocal pattern down of a shameless TV reporter using an ordinary pencil (the one little Monica “used to take notes, pass messages to friends, and maybe make the occasional doodle”) to elicit tears.

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Less successful are the exchanges between a social worker and an alienated adolescent locked up after going on a murderous rampage at his school. The problem isn’t so much the shift in tone but the unconvincing writing. The play doesn’t build, dramatically or intellectually; it just keeps frenetically in motion, draining the more somber notes at the end of real pathos.

In the current production, directed by Blank artistic director Daniel Henning (who staged the original), the walls of the set contain the names of those killed in school shootings since Columbine. The list of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre were neatly lined up like rows of little desks in a now darkened classroom.

“The Why” lampoons those with easy answers, but the names on that growing roster demand we do a better job of finding a solution.

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‘The Why’

Where: The Blank’s 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 19.

Tickets: $25-$30

Info: (323) 661-9827, www.TheBlank.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


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