Bang, Bang, You’re Dead
It was an eerie coincidence that the day I went to see a performance of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead was also the day a gun rumor was circulating at Spanish Springs High School. Not two weeks before, another student allegedly shot and wounded two students at Pine Middle School. This TheaterWorks of Northern Nevada production couldn’t have hit closer to home.
Watching this play made me realize with sadness that from now on, this is how things will be. Every time some kid gets picked on, there’s a chance that kid could just be pissed off enough to bring a gun to school. It’s the same realization William Mastrosimone had in 1998 when, a few days after 15-year-old Kip Kinkel’s shooting spree in Springfield, Ore., he was compelled to write Bang, Bang, You’re Dead.
Mastrosimone told USA Today, “The national tragedy of kids killing kids sweeps the country, and no one, not the schools, not the parents, not the pundits nor the government, has a clue.” And while he doesn’t claim to have all the answers, his hope is that the play might reach others before they move to violence.
The play, directed by Stephanie Richardson, runs just under an hour and tells the story of 15-year-old Josh, played by Stefan Ballard-Reisch. On his first night in jail after killing both his parents (played by Daniel Ward and Sue Turbow) and five of his classmates (played by John Elcano, Taylor Thomas, Anna Kintzer, Sara Toto and Daniel Martin), the voices of Josh’s victims invade his mind, tormenting him, teasing him, and repeatedly asking, “Why did you have to kill me?” Through a series of flashbacks, Josh is forced to answer that one solitary question—and he discovers that he doesn’t really know the answer. Was it because his grandpa was so proud of him on their first hunting trip together? Was it because he saw it in a video game or on TV? Was it to prove he was a man to the girl he loved or to show the kids who’d picked on him who was boss?
The play explores all these questions, but in truth, Josh is like many kids who don’t realize that death means forever. A haunting series of voices from Josh’s victims list all of life’s tiny, beautiful details that they’ll miss now that they’re dead—details Josh will also miss, locked up for the rest of his life in a jail cell, with only his victims’ voices to keep him company.
Mastrosimone provided Bang, Bang, You’re Dead to the Ribbon of Promise Campaign to End School Violence. Through Ribbon of Promise, the script is offered free to anyone willing to perform it, with the caveat that a discussion guide and question-and-answer period be provided after the performance, so students have an opportunity to talk about the issues portrayed on stage.
TheaterWorks of Northern Nevada hopes to perform the play for middle and high schools around the Reno area. While the subject matter is aggressive and not recommended for children under 12, the message of the play is that these tragic actions have consequences and that there is nothing glamorous about school violence. Unfortunately, that’s a message kids could stand to hear again.