In Caitlin Parrish’s new play THE BURIALS, Steppenwolf for Young Adults has found an informative and moving new play that tackles the realities of gun violence in schools with intensity and heart under the direction of Erica Weiss. Loosely based on the Greek tragedy ANTIGONE, THE BURIALS smartly addresses this topical issue from a personal and human perspective, which will allow school-aged audiences to engage with the material without ever feeling spoon-fed. THE BURIALS follows successful high school senior and social media lover Sophie Martin (the superlative Olivia Cygan), who has her world turned upside down when her younger brother Ben (a haunting Matt Farrabee) opens fire inside her school and kills 16 students and one teacher…using her father’s guns. In the wake of this incident, Sophie, her younger sister Chloe (Becca Savoy) and their father, Ryan Martin (Coburn Goss)—an extremely conservative junior senator running for office—must process the experience under intense scrutiny from the public eye. In the case of Sophie and Chloe, they must also face their high school peers, who have been traumatized and some of whom look to the surviving Martin siblings to blame. When Mr. Martin decides to take a public stance advocating for the mandatory presence of guns in schools as a method of preventing future shootings, Sophie must decide if she will stand by her father—or if she will take a different stance.
Watching THE BURIALS is a rightfully intense and uncomfortable experience in many moments. The play opens with a chilling video of Ben on the school grounds—a forewarning of the horrific day to come. But the production eschews graphic violence in favor of an offstage shooting. With sound design by Matt Chapman. The effect, however, remains chilling and extremely unsettling.
The performances throughout THE BURIALS are equally charged. Cygan gives a nuanced and compelling performance as Sophie, allowing us to see her character’s detailed, confusing thought process. And Parrish’s script brilliantly gives Sophie room to grow over the course of the play—just as Sophie must attempt to process what has happened to her, so too must she come into her own views and identity as an adolescent and learn to trust the validity of her own opinions and voice. Cygan portrays this arc beautifully. As Chloe, Savoy lends full emotional weight to her character but also infuses some much needed humor in the piece. As Sophie’s classmates, Stephanie Andrea Barron, Joel Boyd, Ty Olwin, and Aurora Adachi-Winter all turn out excellent performances and allow us to glean the varied, poignant responses the students have to the shooting. As the other adult presence in THE BURIALS, Kristina Valada-Viars has a lovely turn both as a high school teacher and as a local news anchor. But this production ultimately belongs to the teenagers—as it should.
THE BURIALS offers a haunting and informative portrait of the real cost of a high school shooting. It’s a compelling and necessary piece of theater for young audiences in this cultural moment, and Parrish handles this difficult issue with poignancy and respect.
Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ THE BURIALS runs through October 22 in the Upstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf, 1650 North Halsted. Public performances are October 14 (7:30pm),October 15 (3pm), and October 22 (3pm and 7:30pm). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased in-person, online at Steppenwolf.org, or by phone at 312.335.1650.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
Read the original review on BroadwayWorld.