The Erlkings

by Ed Malin · November 20, 2014

"I am a human being; nothing human is strange to me" as Terence once wrote.

 Well, Charles Manson is getting married to a young and sane-looking woman, and now at Theatre Row you can see The Erlkings , a play about the gentle side of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the 1999 Columbine High School murderers.  The play is written by Nathaniel Sam Shapiro and directed by Saheem Ali.   The title comes from Goethe's famous poem Der Erlkönig, set to music by Franz Schubert and lip-synched by the protagonists in the Columbine cafeteria midway through the show.  

To its credit, the production eschews displays of violence and instead documents (through palmcorder flashbacks) the sadness and frustration that later led Eric (Em Grosland) and Dylan (James Scully) to take so many lives.  Eric's family moved around a lot, and he bonded with sensitive Dylan in Colorado.  We do see them joyfully assembling pipe bombs and destressing through target practice, however, in between recitations of their poetry.   They work in a pizza parlor, where unreasonable people harass them.  They go to school and are pelted with food.  They attend anger management classes at school and are told that using profanity in creative writing will not be tolerated.  They complain about women, but also invent female personas they can use to chat with strangers online, thus confirming their feelings of loneliness and the stupidity of others.   One of the more moving scenes was Prom night, where fellow students look forward to college, where you get to do everything they do in the movies in high school.  As the play ends, we see Eric and Dylan getting their nerves up in a bowling alley on April 20th .   On the way out of the theater I remembered the film "Bowling for Columbine" and the story that the two had spent their last morning on earth knocking down pins.

This was a youthful and vibrant production that tried very, very hard.  Eric and Dylan appear to be obsessed by Schubert's lied (which is played several times in the show), and which was found copied into one of the killers' notebooks.  Is the message here that someone should listen to the children (as in that text) before it's too late to save them?  Doss Freel's set features bookbags suspended ominously over the students' heads.






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