Screen 9 review – vivid verbatim play about Colorado cinema shooting

At a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012, a gunman opened fire. After filling the cinema with teargas, he shot at the audience, injuring 70 and killing 12. Shockingly, it is far from being the worst atrocity of its kind in the US.

Kate Barton’s verbatim play for the young Piccolo theatre company focuses on four of the survivors. It traces the buildup to the new Batman movie, the confusion of the mid-screening attack, the horror of the immediate aftermath and the long reckoning that followed.

Staged as if we were in a cinema, complete with bags of popcorn, Barton’s production is at its strongest when it shows how ordinary people react under extraordinary pressure: the wounded woman more concerned about her safety belt than her injury; the medical student who snaps into work mode; the young man so concerned for his girlfriend that he’d rather be inside the cinema than out …

Performed with a matter-of-fact understatement by Hannah Schunk-Hockings, David Austin-Barnes, Sabrina Wu and George Rexstrew, these scenes have a vivid intensity.

The play, though, lacks political bite. After a vacuous discussion about gun control (apparently, “it’s complicated”), Screen 9 grows ever more saccharine. It exploits the private grief of the survivors to play on our emotions, but gives no wider perspective to explain why the incident might have happened in the first place. Where are the voices of the retailers who sold the firearms, the mental-health professionals who cared for the perpetrator, and the representatives of a society where, in 2021 so far alone, there have been more than 400 mass shootings?

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