Review: The 20th of November

by Lynn on September 23, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Time Theatre

Written by Lars Norén
Translated by Gord Rand
Directed by Brendan Healy
Set and Costumes by Camellia Koo
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound and Composition by Richard Feren
Performed by Sina Gilani

A compelling play (monologue) that raises more questions than answers with a beautifully nuanced performance by Sina Gilani.

The Story. From the program: “On the 20th of November 2006, at approximately 9:20 am, an armed 18-year-old man enters his former high school in Emsdetten, Germany and opens fire. Thirty-eight minutes later, he dies from a self-inflicted shot to the face.

In the weeks leading up to the massacre, the man painstakingly details the reasons for his attack on his website, in online forums, and via video confessionals.”

The Production. The playing space is a large room ringed with a circle of black chairs. The audience enters through an opening in the circle and sits in any of the chairs. One young man (18-20), dressed in black track pants, a black top and black trainers, is already seated on the far side from the opening in the circle. He leans forward in his seat, resting on his arms which are on either thigh; his hands are gently clasped in front of him. He is watchful as he looks at each person who enters. He is also aware when a member of the audience shifts in his/her seat. He looks in reaction to the movement or sound or talk. He sizes up each person whether in company or alone.

I know he is Sina Gilani who will play the 18-year-old man who went on a rampage in his former high school. I wonder if the rest of the audience scrutinizes him as much as he scrutinizes them.

The lights lower to signify the show is about to begin, but not so much that we all don’t see each other. Sina Gilani, as the young man. picks up a microphone on the floor beside his foot. He talks quietly and addresses every person he looks at in the circle. He says he has been humiliated and bullied since he was six. He has tried to fit in but failed. He feels he is a loser. He says that a few times. He regrets that this will be his last hour on earth and that he won’t see his family again. He likes his mother and father and brother. They did their best but this has to be done. He talks about the pressure of the materialistic world—a world of possessions, accumulation, of owning expensive stuff such as cars.

In passing, he mentions that his name is Sebastian, but doesn’t mention his last name. He says that soon people will remember him. He slides a long hockey bag forward, unzips it and takes out a couple of rifles, cocking one of them; a few canisters that are smoke bombs and a pistol, laying out each carefully for us to see. Then he quickly puts all the stuff back in his bag, and zips it up and slides it away. He doesn’t tell us what he will do. He doesn’t have to. We see the weapons. Chilling.

Occasionally he will stare across the space and direct a question to someone. Does the person reply or not? Is that what the intention is—to break down the fourth wall? The audience doesn’t know what to do. Awkward. At another point he looks at two men who appear to be sleeping. He challenges them on that and tells them to get out. They don’t move.

At one point the young man comes to the centre of the circle, again looking us in the eye. I found this proximity unsettling and made me thing that perhaps the circle of chairs should have been considerably smaller for the proper full effect of looking a person in the eye when they are being presented with bristling criticism.

As the play continues, and close to the end, his anger rises as does his usually quiet voice. Hate has driven him to this. The focus of his anger? “You!” He says this to us, with a raised voice. We did this to him and we are going to pay for it. A careful listening will alert us that this isn’t just an attempt to be remembered. This is an attempt to get even for a life of misery.

Sina Gilani’s performance as the articulate, troubled Sebastian, is nuanced, subtle, and beautifully realized under Brenan Healy’s sensitive direction. It is a perfect melding of a gifted director and an intelligent, thoughtful actor.

Comment: Also in the program is this: “Shortly after the shooting, playwright Lars Noren takes the man’s writings and crafts the play that you experience tonight. About 95% of what you hear are the shooter’s own words. “

Conspicuous by its deliberate absence from the program note is what he did in that 38 minutes on the morning of the 20th of November. It’s tempting to rush to Google and learn the details and fill up the review with all the facts. But what he did in those 38 minutes is not the point of the play. What happened to him from the time he was six to that morning, which lead him to do what he did, is the point of the monologue.

Because The 20th of November is a one person play, we don’t hear the other side of the story so we can decide where the truth lies. Questions abound. Why was he bullied? By whom? Did he tell anyone? Did he try and get help? These aren’t in the play, but playwright Lars Norén certainly gets one thinking about those questions, and definitely since the young man accuses us of being the cause of his problems. Does this weaken the play? I don’t think so—that’s too easy a dismissal.

Often a reviewer will review the play he/she wants to see. That does everybody a disservice. Sometimes a person is so busy noting his/her reaction to the play he/she doesn’t actually see the play that is presented. I fear that situation might befall The 20th of November. It’s such a deceptively simple play about a complex subject. As such school shootings unfortunately seem to be on the rise God help us if we become complacent or hardened to the horror and shock of them. The questions one must ask when these raging people go on a rampage are these: How did we miss the signs? How come such anger wasn’t evident to us? Perhaps we didn’t listen hard enough or notice.

Buddies In Bad Times presents.

Opened: September 17, 2015.
Closes: October 4, 2015.
Cast: 1 actor.
Running Time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

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