BWW Reviews: Thought-Provoking Satire THE WHY Investigates Who's To Blame for Senseless School Shootings

By: Sep. 20, 2014
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The Blank Theatre opens its 24th season with THE WHY by Victor Kaufold, directed by Daniel Henning on Saturday, September 20 at 8pm. The engagement will run Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through October 19.

According to Blank Artistic Producer Noah Wyle, "THE WHY is a truly original take on a very serious and very complex subject: what is happening to the youth of America? Why are kids killing each other? Who or what is to blame? Through blended styles, mixed media, and a constant shifting between drama, farce, satire, and melodrama, THE WHY... manages to debunk several popular theories being touted by 'experts' in the media. Its continued relevance is frightening." And personally, I love theater that makes you think, even if there is no apparent answer to the questions being asked.

Playwright Victor Kaufold was just 19 years old when he wrote THE WHY, which was a Blank Theatre Young Playwrights Festival winner. Later produced on The Blank's mainstage, Kaufold received an LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Award nomination for World Premiere Play, the youngest person ever to do so. I asked Kaufold what inspired him at such a young age to write such a thought-provoking play, using so few actors to play so many characters. "I had no idea you could write a play like this," he said, "until I saw the play LEBENSRAUM by Israel Horovitz in which 3 actors played so many characters with each one so individualized and central to the story."

I believe the same can be said for THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. Both center on a harrowing tale of man's inhumanity to man, searching for answers when there really aren't any solid ones to be found. As such it is the examination of the situation and its characters that propel the story.

THE WHY is a fast-paced tragicomedy - one part modern satire, one part honest investigation. The central story concerns Robert, an American teenager guilty of murdering three of his classmates in a school shooting, an unfortunately but all-too-co0mmon item in the news today. Spliced among the dramatic exchanges between Robert and his assigned social worker, a parade of fantastical stereotypes storms in and out, creating a dichotomy between moments of hilarity and sorrow. Confronted by disturbingly accurate exaggerations of the tabloid-like modern media, the audience is made to laugh and then question their reaction, realizing the situation is not really funny.

The cast features four very talented and versatile actors who play all the characters in the play with a wide assortment of accents, physicality, and onstage costume changes. They are Ben Crowley, Nicholas Cutro, Jen Landon, and Jeff Witzke. Among the many characters each plays, Cutro is featured as Robert and allows us to see there is no real rhyme or reason as to why the crime was committed. And while he feels no remorse for his 3 victims, he does send an apology to Alex, the fourth teen who survived the senseless act with a disfigured face.

Other standout characters include the Murder News Team (think Fox News reporters) made up of Jen Lanson and Jeff Witzke. You will just want to wring their necks at times given their stupid and insensitive comments, often seeming to incite other teens to follow the same path against their school rivals. They will make you laugh, even when you really know their comments should not be funny. Quite a biting satire on what our media-based society has become.

The play opens with four would-be teen assassins pointing their guns at the audience, explaining their actions before turning their guns on each other. The scene was reminiscent of the coffee shop scene in "Pulp Fiction" with Lanson certainly playing the Honey Bunny type character to a tee with her Bonnie Parker beret reminding us of the tragedy we are about to witness.

A repeating scenario involves a young playwright (Cutro) attempting to deal with school shootings in a positive way. His play centers on high school teens Zack the Jock (Witzke), Kelly the bubble-headed blonde (Lanson), and the school nerd (Ben Crowley) who ultimately makes the right choice and thus allows the play to have a happy ending. Would that real life was that easy to manipulate.

The design team includes inspirational and attention-focusing lighting by Martha Carter, costumes by Sarah Kalb which allow actors to change quickly without leaving the stage, and Rebecca Kessin's sound design that often fills the darkness with horrors no one should ever have to experience.

Director Daniel Henning uses the dual-level black box theater brilliantly, especially one lighting effect I do not want to spoil by revealing it. It is sickening, mind-bending, and totally necessary to point a finger right where it belongs - on all of us.

THE WHY opens Saturday, September 20 at 8pm. The regular performance schedule will be Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through October 19. Admission prices are $25-$30 (student price is $20; must show valid ID), and tickets may be purchased online at or via phone at (323) 661-9827.

The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre is located at 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Wilcox), on Theater Row in Hollywood.

Production photos by Anne McGrath

Nicholas Cutro, Jen Landon, Ben Crowley, Jeff Witzke

L to R: Jen Landon, Nicholas Cutro, Ben Crowley, Jeff Witzke

Ben Crowley, Nicholas Cutro

Nicholas Cutro, Jeff Witzke, Ben Crowley, Jen Landon

The Murder News team: Jen Landon, Jeff Witzke


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