Illuminated empty theatre and stage

Leonard Mc Lane

Story: The people of Newtown, Connecticut describe their rustic village while attending a meeting in June 2013, six months after the horrific mass killing of 26 children and adults by a disturbed gunman on December 14, 2012.

They recall the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School a half-year earlier, the ensuing chaos and shattered hearts and the slow path back to rebuilding their community in the wake of such an awful event. They resolve to move forward as best they can while honoring the memory of those who were senselessly killed.

Highlights: That Uppity Theatre Company recently paired with the Department of Theatre Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma to present a poignant, affecting depiction of how the residents of Newtown reacted to the mass murder of 26 of their children, parents and/or neighbors, finding a way to forge ahead in the memory of those who perished in a community they all love.

Other Info: A Pulitzer Prize finalist, 26 Pebbles is a one-act drama written by Eric Ulloa which strikes a resonant chord with anyone who can identify with the enormous damage caused by such a senseless and random act.

A troupe of performers from the University of Central Oklahoma, under the direction of Emily Heugatter, play multiple roles apiece as they show how the quaint village of Newtown began the process of “heal(ing) and reshap(ing) their community in the wake of what is both a local and national tragedy,” according to publicity notes about the production.

The student effort was presented in St. Louis at a number of venues through the involvement of That Uppity Theatre Company and its artistic director Joan Lipkin. The performance at Christ Church Maplewood UCC incorporated a simple design underscored by a video screen featuring Heugatter’s projection design, showing images of the bucolic community which set in stark contrast to the horrible event which transpired.

The scenic design by Luke Eddy also included a pair of blackboards on which the players wrote the names of the victims, or “26 pebbles,” who died in the bloodbath, while recounting at times the heroics of a principal, a teacher or others who did what they could to save as many lives as possible, some of whom also died under the hail of gunfire.

An interesting element is an arrangement of paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling, a reference to faculty and staff who arranged handmade snowflakes all over the school when Sandy Hook students resumed classes at nearby Chalk Hill Middle School.

As the program notes, this was a gesture “to return to these children a sense of childlike wonder and innocence that they had inevitably lost in the month prior.” The program further states that, “To us, each snowflake represents a prayer for hope for a better and safer future.”

Nick Poss’ sound design complemented the proceedings and Sierra Moses’ costumes dressed everyone essentially in black, both as a statement of uniformity as well as a reference to the awful occurrence, until the final scene when colors emerged. Riley Turner played a number of quiet songs on his guitar and ukelele, pleasantly accompanied on vocals by Madeline Young.

Director Heugatter joined her quintet of students, namely Chloe Sullivan, Ryne Tabor, Josiah Brooks, Alyssa Moon and Julia Seely, in portraying more than a dozen denizens of the community. Their characterizations resonated with believability and poignancy, showing the breadth of resiliency in people who dealt with the unthinkable.

A minor quibble would be that Ulloa’s script doesn’t deal as much with the actual families of the victims as with other members of the community, or at least that’s how it felt to at least one observer. Still, the devastation to the community of Newtown was far and wide among its citizens, as Ulloa so eloquently writes.

The performances in St. Louis also were presented in conjunction with the Missouri Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Painting for Peace in Ferguson.

Play: 26 Pebbles

Company: That Uppity Theatre Company/University of Central Oklahoma

Venue: Christ Church Maplewood UCC

Dates: Run concluded

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