The Erlkings, a new play written by Nathanial Sam Shapiro, follows the two young boys who committed the Columbine Massacre of the late 20th century.
Starring Em Grosland and James Scully as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, this play dives into the minds of the young men. Shapiro started researching the Columbine Massacre after the Sandy Hook shooting, and began to workshop his play since then. Last year, he attended the NYU Graduate Dramatic Writing Program and workshopped “The Erlkings,” until finally it was brought to Theatre Row; his NYC premiere.
The play opens ten minutes before the first scripted line is spoken. The five ensemble members enter the stage and begin interacting as-if they were in a high school cafeteria. This opening helps the show start off with a light-hearted approach, to such a gruesome topic. Finally, when the lights go down, a backpack drops from the ceiling, and the show has begun. The actors reach into the backpack, and pull out rods, which they begin to hit a bicycle with. Throughout the show, more and more backpacks fall onto the stage, and give the actors supplies to continue their story.
Similar to the Laramie Project, Shapiro put in real excerpts from Eric and Dylan’s journals, letters and AOL conversations. Watching Grosland and Scully switch from reality to reciting the passages is a sight to be seen. While they are talking to the audience, they feel every single word. During one of Scully’s passages, he breaks down against a wall, hearing himself fall apart and become something he doesn’t want to be; the actors truly took the sides of their characters, no matter their reputation.
Right before the first act ends, Grosland and Scully ‘play piano’ and lip-synch to the poem “The Erlkings,” a German poem found in Eric Harris’ journal. The message of death and unfeelingness is felt throughout the entire three minute scene, and by the time we enter the second act, the actors are wearing the infamous black trench coats, and finalizing “NBK,” which is never explained to the audience, but we can infer that it means the day of the massacre.
While some of the directorial choices were a bit far-fetched and almost child-like, the actors embodied the characters so fully, that their performances overshadowed any weaknesses of the production. From the moment the ensemble members stepped on stage, to the last bow, each actor was committed to telling the story of the boys. While some audience members may have found the language foul, Shapiro told the true story of Harris and Klebold. If he had left anything out, it would’ve been a disservice to the event.
“The Erlkings” is now playing at Theatre Row in the Beckett Theatre.