“I Googled you,” says Jeff (Wes Needham) to Mary Hollis (Mary Hollis Inboden, playing herself) on their third date.
Flattered that she’s being cyberstalked by this cute guy with loads of potential, she urges him to reveal what he’s found.
“You’re in a lot of plays,” he says. They laugh.
He then notes that he came across an NPR interview where she described being a school shooting survivor. (This NPR interview, to be exact, which was done shortly after the shootings at Virginia Tech.) The laughing stops, and Inboden’s sunny smile melts away.
On March 24, 1998, when Inboden was 12 years old, a boy pulled a fire alarm at her middle school, ran into the woods to meet his friend, and they both started shooting at the students and teachers as they filed outside on the playground. Ten people were injured, five were killed — one of whom was Inboden’s best friend. Her name was Paige.
Then Jeff says something that pushes Inboden to finally do something that had been eating away at her for years — he said he liked the advice she gave to Virginia Tech students in the interview. From the transcript, this is what she said: “I’m not sure that anything that I say will offer them any kind of comfort right now. But in bad, ugly times we need people close to us. And definitely, definitely to keep the people who were there, who have been affected, close, because those are the people that you are going to share a very, very, very hard bond with for the rest of your life, and to have those people close will provide the students a lot of comfort in years to come.”
That’s when Inboden, now in her mid-twenties, realizes she’s a hypocrite: she hasn’t kept in touch with anyone from Westside Middle School. She’s moved on to big city dreams, quietly slipping home only during the holidays. Maybe that’s just what happens — you move on? But maybe she’s subconsciously evading a painful past? After much soul-searching, Inboden decides to change that by reaching out to her former classmates via a mass email, letting them know she not only wants to reconnect, but is also developing a play capturing the truth of their experiences after the tragedy and wants their input.
“I could certainly tell the tale from my solo point of view, but I think the real greatness of our story is simply that — it is OUR story” she says in this email, which is printed in the program. “It will be so much richer and rewarding to have not only your blessing to uncover and reveal some things that may not be so pleasant to summon up, but to create something from all of our shared pasts that can really speak to both the hope and the hurt that exists in this world.”
The result is The Warriors, a deeply personal one-act group confessional that explores how a shared tragedy at such an impressionable age brings people together in unexpected ways. Camille (Nicole Pellegrino), Danni (Sarah Gitenstein) and Logan (Michael Peters) are three close-knit survivors who still live in their hometown, and with whom Inboden reconnects. Danni and Logan are married. Danni, who is now a teacher, freezes every time a fire drill occurs at the school. Logan was sick from school the day of the shootings and feels like an outsider at times. Camille, a sassy mother of two young boys who was one of the injured students, creates scrapbooks remembering the tragedy and gives one to Inboden as a welcome home gift.
And then there’s JC (Whit Nelson), who resents Inboden lumping him into the mass email, as it labels him as a victim.
People grieve and reconcile horrific things in different ways. It’s hard to forget the tragedy when you have to drive by the playground — or, “the war zone” as some call it — multiple times a day. As fiercely as Inboden refuses to admit it, this event has left a deep scar, and moving 500 miles away doesn’t change that.
Praise should be given to playwright Evan Linder who took Inboden’s concept and shaped it into an inspired piece of theatre, avoiding over-sentimentality or exploitation. You feel you know these people. He also manages to capture Inboden’s spark and humor — two traits that place her among the brightest young actresses currently working in Chicago theatre. She’s one of the most natural — and funniest — actresses I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m glad she can showcase that here, while also implying that her wisecracking disposition might be a defense mechanism. And in The Warriors, she realizes that the best defense is to confront and embrace your past in order to build your future.
As my friend said leaving the show last night: “This is why I do theatre.”
And if that’s not a rave, I don’t know what is.
“The Warriors” is playing at The Second Stage, 3408 North Sheffield Avenue, through April 17. More info here >