By Constance Rodgers
17 Minutes, by Seth Organ, is a story of one man’s guilt due to his inaction during a school shooting. Sheriff Andy Rubens (Larry Mitchell) did not do enough to stop a shooting which resulted in the death of 12 children. Andy, like most of us, is a caring person who feels deeply the loss of the young lives and the grief of their parents and community. Andy would do almost anything for it not have happened and to assure it never happens again. But he is frozen. We are frozen.
We hear much about school and other shootings in the news and media but not from this perspective. 17 Minutes does not preach to us what we already know, that guns kill and hurt people hurt people. It presents each character’s despair and confusion about their various roles (in something they actually had no control over) with a tender hand and deep respect for the complications inherent in being on the front lines of this problem. To listen to the father of the shooter (Michael Giese) blame himself and wonder, what if I had made my son scrambled eggs that morning, to watch a strong woman sheriff (Shannon Patterson) breakdown in shame because she said I love you to the shooter as she took him down, these moments are not the ones we are shown when shootings happen in real life. That is what makes 17 Minutes so powerful. It is not the story of heroes with clear vision who see everything in black and white. It is the story of us and our vacillating and our excuses. As Andy cleans his gun, which has never been shot, over and over again, like Lady Macbeth cleansing her hands, we start to ask ourselves, is it my fault? Could I be cleaner, more sure, with less blame? Could I, like a gun, point directly at the problem and blow it away? Andy informs us that the reality of gun shooting is it is imprecise, whether in law enforcement or in war, whether with a 9 millimeter or an automatic rifle. Extremely imprecise, for “trained officers only an 18% hit rate in a gunfight” and “not much better than spray and pray” in war.
Larry Mitchell plays Andy with a pained understanding that reminded me of Charles Laughton. Mitchell ‘s vulnerability is palpable. Michael Giese’s Dan Watson, father of the shooter, goes to a very dark place, and those feelings ricochet onto all parents with a painful clarity only a parent can understand without judgment. Brian Rojas is a definitive Detective Morris. Shannon Patterson’s Sheriff Stevens is filled with care and love, a tender woman doing a crushing job with a strength that allows her to survive. All the players are moving, intelligent and honest.
The Barrow Group’s stated mission is to present, “well-crafted stories that address social, spiritual, and political issues – to create an immediate, authentic connection between actors, audiences, and the writing.” They succeed magnificently in their mission.
This brilliant piece of theater has been extended through March 1st, which is soon, so go, because the play is profound and the acting is simply some of the most sincere I have ever witnessed outside a primal theater setting.
17 Minutes Written by Scott Organ; Directed by Seth Barrish
Cast: Lee Brock, Michael Giese, DeAnna Lenhart, Larry Mitchell, Shannon Patterson, Brian Rojas
17 Minutes through March 1 at The Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street. Tickets $35–$60 ($20-$25 students) Tickets at barrowgroup.org or 866-811-4111. Run Time: 90 Minutes no intermission.