columbinus


Credit: John Groseclose

Phoenix’s Stray Cat Theatre is at it again, putting cutting-edge shows on stage affordably but with exceptional quality. Their current show, columbinus, is a haunting docudrama that blends The Laramie Project with elements of The Real World.


Credit: John Groseclose

Without seeming glib, columbinus begins simply, bringing together 8 high school students for a typical day of classes, gossip, lunch, and turmoil. Each cast member walks out on stage, strips down to their underwear, and then goes to sleep, only to then start their day all over, putting on the familiar clothing of the archetypes they represent: the jock, the popular girl, the religious girl, the prep, the freak, the nerd, etc. For the next hour, these unnamed archetypes circle each other like sharks, preying on the weaker and butting chests with the stronger.

Although it has bearing on the second half of the show, the way columbins begins was too vague for me. I hope I don’t seem jaded, but the play seemed to state the obvious (that everyone in high school has life-threatening problems/fears/concerns), and then it stated it over and over again. This is really a problem of scripting rather than performance. The strength in the opening was the poetically-crafted dialogue, acting as a sort of Greek chorus of voices who pop and sizzle individually, then snap together percussively.

The actors were all exceptionally made over into teenagers, both looking and acting like crazed hormonally-charged weirdoes. I especially liked “the bad girl,” whose anger was always barely contained–but likewise her vulnerability.


Credit: John Groseclose

By the end of the first act, two of the archetypes morph seamlessly in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers. It’s a powerful moment, one that asks the audience to consider just how easily any of these students could have snapped and become like them; it asks the audience to consider our own part in fostering violence and intolerance.

The second half of the show is much, much stronger. We watch Harris and Klebold plot, prepare, and then attack their school. The playwright smartly backs out of this sequence, letting historical documents and survivor testimony stand in for crafted dialogue. Survivors describe their terror blankly, focusing events more than feelings. We hear of heads exploding, legs torn to shreds by gunfire, the way a body feels as it stops breathing. We watch our friends die, we play dead, we beg, we profess our belief in God, we are shot.

It’s an almost indescribable sequence, staged flawlessly by Ron May and his cast. The rhythm, the lighting, the staging, the sound effects, and the performances are all top-notch, lacking both irony and pathos. The real strengh of columbinus is its resistance of editorial, putting before us the evidence, then asking us who we are.

Arizona Derby Dames

Last night I went to the roller derby competition with a bunch of friends. It was my first time. I wasn’t familiar with roller derby except for what I recently read about it in The Advocate but I was interested in witnessing what was sure to be a rock-n-roll spectacle like no other.

If you’re not familiar with how the game is played, here’s a little primer:

The group skate around the track, lap after lap. The “Jammers” (one player on each team with a starred helmet) tries to skate through/around the “pack” of “blockers” (skaters who get in their way) in order to pass them. Every time the Jammer passes the pack, they get a point.

Last night we were there rooting for the Brutal Beauties, a black and hot pink-clad group of skaters. Of them, Phyllis Killer was kind enough to hold us some rink-side seats so we were pretty much part of the action. And that’s another important part of roller derby: names. Along with other team names like the Runaway Brides, the Grave Draggers, and the Bombshells, the team members all have “derby names.” Among my favorites were “Ann Thrash” and “Dr. Mary Lu Botomy,” along with the aforementioned Phyllis Killer.

I had no less than three ladies tumble and slide directly into my chair during the competition, which was awesome. I fared pretty well; another group of people had a skater land on top them, slicing through a series of sodas in styrofoam cups first. Phyllis Killer, in one particularly spectacular fall, got her skate wrapped around my friend Helena Handbasket’s handbag. When she finally noticed, she immediately reached down, untangled the purse strap—and then took out my friend’s wallet as if to skate away with it.

Roller derby is tough, like hockey, but with a decidedly tough-girl edge to it. Many of the team uniforms emphasize the player’s bust and butts, often revealing one or the other as they skate by, bent over:

Beau and I were brainstorming derby names for ourselves. Although we arrived calling ourselves “Judy Gnarl-land” and “Lauren ‘Ex-Con’-rad,” we later decided to create full teams of players. My team is based on famous gymnasts of the past: Mary Lou Rotten, for example. Beau’s team is all named after feminine hygiene products—and the only example I could post in this entry is “Summers Eve.”

Roller derby is gaining popularity around the country. Google your hometown to find out if there’s a match happening near you. At $8, you can’t get more enjoyment out of each measly buck these days.

It Finally Came Around to Me

After thirteen years of bona fide adulthood, seven years of consistent living in more or less what you would consider “the same place,” after watching countless friends and colleagues go through it, it finally happened to me:

I got my summons for jury duty in the mail earlier this week.

It’s not necessarily an invitation to participate, though. In Arizona, you are given a date upon which you must begin calling the courthouse to see if you will be required to come down and sit through the vetting process. To see if they event want to see if they want you.

Apparently, it involves a day of sitting and waiting, no reading, and having to watch some strange “civic duty” movie on a TV/VCR while you make time with your fellow citizens.

I feel a civic obligation to do my part as much as the next person, but I’m pretty sure my lifestyle just isn’t ideal for jury service: full time employment, a part-time at-home literary journal gig, extensive volunteering in the community, plus a nine-credit student course load for the term. A dog relying on me for love and nourishment. A boyfriend who can’t cook. Does it all make for a compelling argument to disenfranchise me from my civic responsibility?

Furthermore, is it ethical or not that the state is willing to pay me $40 a day to determine someone’s guilt or innocence?