BWW Review: THE NEXT CHARLES…. DICKENS OR MANSON at Crowbar

BWW Review: THE NEXT CHARLES…. DICKENS OR MANSON at Crowbar

Debuting at the inaugural Tampa Fringe Festival on Thursday, May 12, local Wesley Chapel playwright Peter Nason's 47 REASONS TO LIVE is a unflinching look at the inner workings of a teen psychopath. You don't even know you're holding your breath until you suddenly realize you need to breathe. Caleb Brening's performance as James, is terrifying in its authenticity. He is like watching someone struggle to make balloon animals, knowing eventually the pop is going to come, anticipating the pop, but not knowing when. And then boom, the pop is a gun and the gun is shoved into a teacher's head.

A timely and dark reflection on a school shooting, 47 REASONS TO LIVE will not leave you like some performances do. It will cause the reflections, the discussions, the remembrances of over 200 school shootings since 2013 and pose the question, how do we fix a broken child.

Chris Holcom, Jessica Medley Waters, Pete Clapsis, Jaime Giangrande-Holcom, and Dennis Duggan are a stellar ensemble that complements the insanity that masks itself as normalcy in a teenage boy that looks like the lead in a romantic comedy.

James' teachers Mr. Zimmerman (Chris Holcom) and Mr. Breinard (Pete Clapsis) identified him as a bright, creative boy, a talented writer, yet a troubled youth who didn't qualify for a 504. His mother (Jaime Giangrande-Holcom) was called in and dismissed their concern with "it's just boy's stuff." A love interest Ashley (Jessica Medley Waters) is both horrified and excited by the revelation of a gun in James' book bag. "I thought he was going to kiss me," she later reveals.

The teachers don't know what to do with this enigma and argue whose place it is to save the child. "It's not our job to change his direction; it's our job to teach," counters Mr. Breinard to Mr. Zimmerman's plea to do something.

James who romanticizes serial killers and has disdain for anything that doesn't fit into his warped vision of the world, counts down his favorite things from Jeffrey Dahmer to gummy worms. He discusses the murdering of his teachers and students - from the popular ones to those forgotten by their own parents - as normally as someone asking for Unicorn Frappuccino at Starbucks.

"Except Mr. Z. You gotta leave a witness."

The countdown, the facial expressions, the ice-cold malice, the contempt for life drives the story forward to an unexpected conclusion. You need to leave an hour's space in your calendar for the last performance at the Tampa Fringe Festival on Saturday, May 13. As a past teacher, this made me think that 47 REASONS TO LIVE should be a required view for every high school student, parent, and teacher and there should be a mandatory Q & A afterwards.

47 REASONS TO LIVE premiered at the Tampa International Fringe Festival on Thursday, May 11. Performances continue Saturday, May 13 at 2:55 p.m. at Crowbar, 1812 North 17th St., Ybor City, Tampa. $10 and $5 Fringe button. For ticket information, go to tampafringe.org or purchase tickets at Crowbar.


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