One would think that the regular killing of students and staff on American school campuses would lead to some sort of meaningful change in how our nation deals with the issue of guns. Sadly, as we read the news reports and watch the horrifying video footage of the latest school shooting (as of the date of this review’s submission, in Nashville), it’s clear that nothing has really changed.
We see the same images – parents clutching their children, young people in shock with tears rolling down their faces and their mouths covered, gurneys transporting the covered bodies of tiny victims – and we hear the same platitudes (thoughts and prayers, etc.) from our “leaders” who offer comfort to the survivors with one hand while accepting campaign contributions from the gun lobby with the other, over and over and over again.
We hear the voices and stories of the victims’ families and the survivors, but then the news cycle changes, the outrage dims and the voices grow faint. Until the next “event”.
Amye Archer and Loren Kleinman released an anthology of those voices and stories in 2019. They titled it If I Don’t Make It, I Love You. The title comes from a text sent by a 15-year-old girl to her mother as she hid in a closet at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during the mass shooting there in 2018.
Healdsburg’s Raven Players Artistic Director Steven David Martin read the book, was profoundly moved, and reached out to the editors for permission to adapt some of the stories for the stage. Together with ten local writers and thirteen local actors, they’ve created a two-night program running at the Raven Performing Arts Center in Healdsburg through April 9.
Each 65-minute program consists of seven narratives. There is little overlap between the two programs so it is not necessary to see both to get the full impact. Each scene involves one or two actors speaking the words of the surviving victims or victims’ family members. Projections sear the names and ages of the dead into one’s consciousness. 6 years old. 7 years old. 67 years old. The lists go on.
Each scene is an emotional gut punch. The two that were most impactful were “Right Place at the Right Time” (adapted by Teri Amara Boero, performed by Katie Watts-Whitaker), a daughter’s story of the loss of her teacher father and the purpose it brought to her life, and “Nick” (adapted by Scott Lummer, performed by Craig Peoples), a father’s story of the loss of his son and his inability to offer his forgiveness.
The audience is placed on stage which means seating is limited, but this show demands intimacy. It is an uncomfortable evening of theatre, as it should be. It is documentation of a continuing national tragedy. It is documentation of our continuing national shame.
‘If I Don’t Make It, I Love You’ runs through Apr 9 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 pm; Sunday, 2 pm. $10–$25. 707.433.6335. raventheater.org
Photos by Ray Mabry
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and on the website of The Healdsburg Tribune.