By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK — A play about the Columbine High School massacre written from the perspective of the two teen shooters will make its world premiere in New York next month, penned by a playwright who was nine at the time of the killings and calls it “a watershed moment.”
Nathaniel Sam Shapiro’s “The Erlkings” will begin performances on Nov. 9 at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre. The play takes its title from a German poem found in a journal of one of the killers.
The playwright said he uses the teen killers’ own words — culled from chatroom logs, homework assignment, teacher’s notes and diaries — to paint portraits of two troubled kids, not monsters.
The play never depicts the shootings.
“The first step in dealing with this is in a larger social context is to acknowledge our kinship with these people,” said Shapiro, a Brown University graduate who earned a master’s in playwriting from New York University in the spring.
Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding two dozen others before killing themselves in the school’s library in 1999.
Shapiro said that many of the popular perception of Harris and Klebold— that they were members of a Trench Coat Mafia and targeted popular jocks and African-Americans — turned out to be false.
“It’s kind of incumbent upon us to swallow our pride or move past our own issues and try to reach out to these people. Learning about Eric and Dylan, one thing that sticks out is that I don’t think anyone reached out to them.”
The play will star Em Grosland as Harris and James Scully as Klebold. It will be directed by Saheem Ali, who was an assistant director on Broadway’s “The Normal Heart” and “A Free Man of Color” at Lincoln Center Theater.
Shapiro recalls his school’s dynamics changing profoundly after Columbine but then watched sadly as more school shootings occurred — Sandy Hook Elementary School, Oikos University and Red Lake Senior High, among them.
He said that looking back over the Harris and Klebold documents he found numerous moments when troubling actions or words from one of the boys might have prompted an adult to stop them.
“I’m going to show the audience that there were opportunities and that people shirked from them,” Shapiro said.
The play will join a select few artistic attempts to explore the Columbine shootings, including Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine.”