26 Pebbles Focuses on Hope in Dayton World Premiere
Review by Liz Eichler of 26 Pebbles: Human Race Theatre
Before I went to the world premiere of 26 Pebbles at Daytonâ€™s Human RaceTheatre Company, I braced myself for the subject matter: the brutal murders at Sandy Hook Elementary, so gruesome an act that President Obama said, then, it was the worst day of his presidency.
But I wasnâ€™t prepared for the cheerful opening (or ending) in which playwright Eric Ulloa paints the town as an exemplary community both before and after that shocking day, whose uplifting message puts a soothing balm on the scars and scabs of fear and hate.
This 90 minute journey is a pastiche of characters who inhabit Newton, Connecticut, and Everytown, USA, many reflecting real individuals the playwright interviewed after the event: parents, teachers, town leaders, religious figures, firefighters, small business ownersâ€“most who grew up there all their life, and a few who chose Newtown as the best place to raise a family.
The idyllic town was shattered by the events of 12/14/12, when a young man murdered his mother, then blasted through the school, and ultimately killed himself. It is not a depiction of that day, but a testimony to the resilience of the community and individuals who must assimilate that day into their lives, the ensuing â€œrapeâ€ by the media, and the onslaught of well-wishers trying to help.
The six performers skillfully take you through a roller coaster of emotions, as they fluidly morph from one character into the other. This great ensemble consists of Christine Brunner, Gina Handy, Scott Hunt, Jennifer Joplin, Caitlin McWethy and Jason Podplesky (all professionals with Actorâ€™s Equity Association), directed by Igor Goldin. The actors simply don a necklace, a name badge, or a hat to lead the transformation into each character, and they are a wonderful ensemble. The setting (designer Scott J. Kimmins) changes as well, from order to chaos.
The characters share that the whole town lost something. The directive from one is to â€œlive joyfully, because the alternative is miserable.â€ We see how some of the characters lean toward anger, and become rabid activists against gun control, but others question: are they creating more division or opening the countryâ€™s eyes?
This is a journey that will spark conversation; the play focuses not on the event itself, but on how you choose toâ€ ripple outâ€ when a tragedy is thrown your way. Do you want a national tragedy to continue to divide you? Or bring you closer together? And how do all those ripples interact?
26 Pebbles runs through February 19 at Daytonâ€™s Loft Theatre, produced by the Human Race Theatre Company. For tickets: www.humanracetheatre.org