I always ask the director and cast what they want the audience to be talking about on the drive home after the show. After seeing Innovocative Theatre’s COLUMBINUS on January 10 at Stageworks, there was very little conversation – silence punctuated by musical soundtracks to fill the empty air as we grappled to process what we just experienced. Experienced is a key word here. You can’t just see COLUMBINUS, when this cast makes you feel every breath of it. Even director Staci Sabarsky didn’t say enjoy the show in her opening curtain speech because you experience a malignancy at its birth, its growth festering and exploding in a type of rage no one knew before April 20, 1999. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went into history books for a school shooting that left 15 dead and 20 injured at Columbine High School. COLUMBINUS, using fact and fiction, attempted to show how the two boys slipped through society’s crack, despite the red flags, to become the notorious high school mass murderers we read about in history books today.

While we can never understand why Dylan and Eric choose to do what they did, the complex portrayed events leading up to the horrific shooting made you better understand the mindset of the two bullied outsiders. If you had no knowledge of their future, your heart would almost break for the boys for the cruelty they endured from their classmates, the hesitation in approaching girls – the awkwardness of their youthful inexperience. When they reached a point where they wouldn’t take it anymore and wanted revenge, Nick Hoop as Eric and Ryan Fisher as Dylan electrified the stage with an intensity that was truly harrowing.

Usually there was one or two that stood out above the others in a cast, but this was truly an exceptional ensemble piece, working like a well-oiled machine and every name – Nick Hoop (Freak), Ryan Fisher (Loner), Aubrey Vollrath (Perfect), Caleb Brening (Jock), Harrison Baxley (AP), Alexandria Crawford (Rebel), Fiona Walsh Calton (Faith), and Kidany Camilo Nieves (Prep) – needs to called out and praised for the believability of the archetypes portrayed, for making high memories flood back like salt to an open would.

The individual monologues in subtle lighting revealed the characters’ truths and flaws, while the bright lighting focused on what they wanted people to see. Flawless isn’t a word I use lightly.

Staci’s use of the whiteboard to play video and audio feed in conjunction with the performance added yet another level of intimacy to the story. The second act kicked you in the gut and left you praying for Kleenex.

For a lucky few, high school was football games, extracurriculars, prom, best friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, drivers’ licenses, and first jobs. For the rest on the outskirts of popularity, each day was a waiting game to get through for the revered piece of paper, handshake and a tassel flip. Dylan and Eric couldn’t survive the wait.

In the last moments – the familiar sound of white chalk scratching against a blackboard – the cast went in for the final kill and left you gasping for air.

Normally, I don’t see plays more than once, but had I the time, this was a play I would see again because it was without sensationalism and just that impactful that I am still thinking about this morning. If you are parent, a student, and educator, see Innovocative Theatre’s show. If you think the content might be too destressing, you definitely need to see this show. You can’t hide from the message. Columbine still exists today, echoed in Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, among many others. I found irony in Eric and Ryan’s prophetic video recording statements, “We’ll create a tear in America that will never heal” and “I don’t think this will happen again….”

Like the world that existed before and after Columbine, at the close of this show, there was now a before and after COLUMBINUS. Had this been a movie, I would predict an Oscar sweep in all categories. Everything – from casting, blocking, set, sound, and lighting – came together in a way that was illuminating, heartbreaking, and completely and utterly disturbing.