Why are school shootings the norm and why have grown-ups done nothing about them? That is the question looming in Lindsey Ferrentino’s This Flat Earth which focuses on how trauma affects children in school shootings. This timely play tells the personal story of two 13-year-olds. Julie (Ella Kennedy Davis) and Zander (Ian Saint-German) have recently lost a number of friends and are trying to make sense of it all as they return back to the scene of the crime…. school. As they watch movies, Zander is trying to figure out how to bring his relationship with Julie to the next stage, after all, teenage hormones are raging. Julie’s mom is dead, so it is up to Julie’s dad, Dan (Lucas Papaelias), to cope with this issue. Julie lost a classmate, Nicole, and her mother Lisa (Cassie Beck) shows up on her doorstep grieving. Upstairs, Cloris (Lynda Gravátt) plays a cello album (brilliantly played live by the Grammy-nominated Christine H. Kim). This elderly lady lives in her own world until Julie and Zander climb up the exterior fire escape and bring their pain to her door. As normal life resumes, a visit from the vice president – who has really bad breath – and an uplifting concert cannot sooth the questions or the feelings of dread inside.
We never learn what really happened, and it seems a little out of touch for Julie to not know that these school massacres are becoming more and more frequent. Sadly, the questions are way too relevant, and unlike the show Office Hours at The Public which took on the shooter, we do not hear the answers or a version on how to truly cope with this out of control epidemic. Nobody actually talks about the shooting, but the focus is more on class and privilege.
Kennedy Davis and Saint-German are well cast, bringing a strength of emotion to their parts. Mr. Papaelias, Ms. Beck, and Ms. Gravátt all add their talent in support of the two leads.
Ferrentino’s play is compelling and brave but misses plausibility and is too overstuffed with ideas. She is, however, on the right track about speaking about issues and getting the conversation started.
I normally love Rebecca Taichman’s direction, but here it seems a little out of focus and a little too intense.
Dane Laffrey’s excellent two-tier set and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting is subtle and well done.
I can understand why children think, “Yes, we are angry, yes we are frustrated, but we need answers, we need to take a stand and we need solace.”
This Flat Earth: Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., until April 29.