Theatre 40’s second play of the season “26 Pebbles” by playwright Eric Ulloa takes the audience on an astounding and heartfelt journey of the 2012 tragedy that struck in New Town, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-six lives were taken by shooter Adam Lanza, who also died. One can not fully comprehend what the parents, teachers and community went through. But this exceptionally well written play gives us an idea of the before, during and poignant healing aftermath. Jules Aaron’s direction was taut and the story moved at a fast pace. The production values were top notch with images from the town shown throughout the play.
The fine ensemble cast of six members, with each actor playing multiple roles, does a phenomenal job. As the six actors sit on colorful blocks on a stark stage, they make small costume changes to transform into their other characters. There were some 19 characters represented including the town’s Rabbi dramatically played by George Villas, Actor 3, and the town’s priest so well acted by Joe Lorenzo, Actor 2. He is a man of God but he cannot come to grips with what happened. The Rabbi says, “New Town does not want to be remembered as the town of tragedy.” “We want to be remembered as a bridge to a new and kinder world.” Powerful words. That one moment changed everyone’s lives in New Town, but it ultimately did not define New Town. We met the community of New Town before the tragedy struck. We experience that one dramatic moment and live through what the people went through. Playwright Ulloa took transcripts from the people interviewed by the media and their words became the basis for much of the script.
Geff G. Rack’s stark set is a reminder that this was an elementary school. The colored blocks in bright red, green, blue and yellow help establish the setting as do the two empty swings in the background. We open with a vertical chalkboard as Jennifer Lee Laks, Actor 1, draws the streets of New Town and shows us the center of town marked by the flag. We are introduced to the peaceful small town community of New Town before the tragedy struck. “Obscurity was nice.” Laks gave a compelling performance as the guide and as a parent. Michele Schultz, whose first character is Australian as Actor 5 was wonderfully expressive and energetic as all her characters. Jean Kaufman, Actor 4, has one character that is a type of Shaman and has a delightful exchange with her partner in healing played by Roslyn Cohn, Actor 6.
I liked how the story moved from the moment of tragedy into the town’s people trying to process the devastating ordeal. We saw everyone’s reaction and felt their powerful emotions. The image of a bowl with a pebble dropped into it which showed the ripple effect of the 20 children and the six teachers whose lives were taken was so powerful. The television image of then President Obama speaking, “God has called them all home,” was startlingly profound.
This play reminds us that tragic events can make us stronger. Even the life of Adam Lanza, the shooter, was explored as people were coming to grips. How can one forgive him? He too was a tragic figure whose mental illness was the cause of this tragedy. Some blamed him and some blamed his mother. Add two more pebbles to the 26. The journey ends with a poster, “I am LOVE. I am New Town.” The play did not leave us on a dark note but uplifted us through a fulfilling and cathartic experience. Kudos to the excellent cast and to director Jules Aaron. This is a must see play. The run ends Monday, October 15. But, I suspect this is a play that will be brought back.
At The Theatre With Audrey Linden
October 14, 2018