Review: Deborah Bostock-Kelley's Powerful NOT ONE MORE at the Tampa Fringe Festival

Thought-Provoking, Harrowing!

By: Jun. 09, 2024
Review: Deborah Bostock-Kelley's Powerful NOT ONE MORE at the Tampa Fringe Festival
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I still own the newspaper. The Orlando Sentinel, January 30, 1979.  The headline was about Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old from Cleveland, who took a rifle and shot up an elementary school, wounding many and killing its principal.  When asked why she did it, she answered, “I don’t like Mondays; this livens up the day.” That quote would inspire a Boomtown Rats song, but more importantly, it would be the first school shooting that I recall, a full twenty years before Columbine.

Since Columbine, it’s been sheer madness.   

Brenda Spencer’s shooting spree turned out to be a harbinger, the most alarming aspect of education in the past few decades—that no one on campus is safe.  Lockdown drills have now become ATP (Active Threat Plan) drills, and most everyone takes them seriously these days because, as is so often the case, past victims of school violence seem to always have said, “We never thought it would happen here.”  According to Sandy Hook Promise, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens, and since Columbine, more than 338,000 students in the United States have experienced gun violence at school.  Two years ago, there were more school shootings--46--than in any year since Columbine, and who knows, maybe this year may even rival that one.

When will this madness end?

That’s the question playwright Deborah Bostock-Kelley asks in her powerful, emotionally wrenching new play currently being showcased at the Tampa Fringe Festival: NOT ONE MORE.

NOT ONE MORE is a play in two parts--Part 1 deals with teens struggling with a school shooting not long after the incident, and Part 2 takes place months later, when parents and loved ones are dealing with the same shooting in a “safe” support group.

As difficult as Part 1 is--seeing a school shooter’s effect on his peers--it’s nothing compared to the ramped up emotional power of Part 2.  But Part 2 pushes the audience so far, sometimes too far, that we almost become numb.  In fact, there is an unnecessary twist in Part 2, involving a car accident as a result of the shooting, that amps up the emotions of the cast but also takes the power away from the overall show.  I have seen Part 2 several times, and it is one of the most potently raw and important plays I’ve experienced.  It just pushes the storyline too far for my tastes, and as is often the case, less could be so much more here.

But Ms. Bostock-Kelley focuses on something so important in Part 2 that is rarely if ever covered: The shooter’s parents.  They are the forgotten victims, the ones society blames.  But they have lost a loved one as well, and worse, their loved one is the cause of all of this pain; who mourns for them?  They are left alone with nothing but questions: Was it something they did or left undone that caused the shooting?  Were their signs they obviously missed?  The character in NOT ONE MORE, Rose, keeps proclaiming that she was a good parent, but was she?  She feels guilty, but she also keeps bringing up excuses (her son being constantly bullied), not understanding the gall to appear with the other grieving parents who lost their children due to her child’s violent act.  The great thing Ms. Bostock-Kelley brings to the table is that everyone is in grief--not just the parents, and not only the shooter’s mom, but the friends, the grief counselor.  No community member can be dispassionate when such violence has destroyed so many lives around them.

Cornerstone High School is the latest Ground Zero for a school shooting.  Four girls sit around a table, matter-of-factly describing their lives before a young open fired on campus with an AR-15.  There’s attitudinal Maddie, quiet Em, silently heroic Erika, and Shannon the cheerleader.  It’s like The Breakfast Club set after Columbine. There’s occasional overwriting (sometimes what is not said can be stronger than a more didactic point), but some great lines resonate, such as a girl who “dresses like she got her clothes out of the Cornerstone Lost & Found.”  Or: “Living in Mean Girls but with social media.” And: “All her broken pieces fit my broken pieces.” 

Ms. Bostock-Kelley, who directs with Amy C. Ragg, has also assembled one hell of a cast.

Madison Pulica is astoundingly real as Maddie, one of the shooter’s victims.  She has an eye-rolling sincerity, and her last moments are heartbreaking.  She is nicely aided by Alex Hooker’s Shannon and Alana Sasdelli’s Em. 

Molly Dakota Ganong as Erika gets her spellbinding moments in Part 2, but I also appreciate her work in Part1; she’s a wonderful onstage listener, reacting to each moment. But her work in Part 2 is stellar, heart-tearing, so emotionally truthful.

Part 2 is set in the Pastor Thomas Grief Support Group.  Parents, as well as Erika, sit in a circle months after the tragedy, finding a safe space and trying to figure out what to do with their grief.  The always-mighty Kym Welch bring such honesty to a parent, and even when the script goes off the main highway with her character, she stays on track, laser focused, and breaks your heart in the process.  She shows such emotional range--from rage to grief to even glee of sorts--that would be worrisome and maybe even an overreach in the hands of a lesser performer.

Equally good is Naomi Sample as a parent whose grief soon turns to volcanic anger.  She holds nothing back and is emotionally strong and honest.   As Rose, the shooter’s mom, Amy C. Ragg has the most difficult part.  She is amazingly honest and heartfelt, and she cannot even get empathy from the other grieving parents.  She’s alone, and plays it as such.  The writing could use some editing with the role, since some of the same things are said over and over to the point of redundancy, but Ms. Ragg keeps it gut-wrenchingly real.

Holding it all together is Beth Behner as Pastor Thomas, very real and the anchor that helps these wailing parents find meaning and solace in their lives.

Come early so you can hear Olya V. Lin’s original theme song.

In its current incarnation at the Fringe, NOT ONE MORE should be required viewing by parents, teachers, counselors, and students who want to make sense of this crazy world that they’re inheriting. It’s a perfect addition to the Fringe, which usually hosts quirky plays, wild ideas, fun times.  But it is also a place for serious works, and this one was like an explosion of sorts--an explosion of emotions.  The Fringe audience was spellbound, sitting on the edges of their seats, holding their collective breaths.  They knew they weren’t coming in to see a laugh riot, but many weren’t prepared for this emotional tumult, this sock in the gut, care of Ms. Bostock-Kelley’s excellent ensemble.

The audience left the theatre in a daze, awestruck by the force that they had just experienced, and probably wondering if there are any frothy Fringe pieces out there, some lighter fare perhaps, that would be best to follow up the harrowing and thought-provoking NOT ONE MORE.   

NOT ONE MORE plays at the Tampa Fringe Festival’s West Annex at the Kress Contemporary in Ybor City and runs tonight (June 9) at 7:30 PM; Tuesday, June 11 at 8:30 PM; Saturday, June 15 at 1:15 PM; and Sunday, June 16 at 6:30 PM. Bring a Kleenex.




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