In the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, entered her own kind of personal hell. In addition to being shocked that her son could have done such a thing, that she did not know her son at all, she was blamed and her life was scrutinized. She faced questions like, “How could you not know?” and “What kind of a mother doesn’t know?” and “Didn’t you ever tell your son that you loved him?” She carried the guilt of knowing her son caused other parents to experience the unimaginable pain of losing a child.
What one of those other parents might have felt is explored in “Entangled,” a two-hander by Gabriel Jason Dean and Charly Evon Simpson, the last of four intersecting plays that follow a community after a mass shooting. Presented by The Amoralists at Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre, A.R.T./New York Theatres in mid-town, Greta (Naomi Lorrain) has lost her young daughter, Astrid, in a mass shooting by a young white man on a school field trip to the Hayden Planetarium. She has been singled out because of “violence” in her background, and the implication is that she is “blamed” for the shooting. But Great has zero tolerance for this narrative, and refuses to be the “angry black woman” when what killed all those children was yet another young white man with a gun. Lorrain is an incredible performer, and moves through Greta’s mourning with astonishing emotional fluidity. Greta is grief-stricken, yes; but she is also, by turns, angry, funny, sarcastic, enraged, bereft, warm, vengeful. And Lorrain does this with ease.
Her counterpart, of a sort, is the mass shooter’s brother, Bradley (James Kautz, very fine). Totally shocked by what his brother has done, Bradley completely unravels. He falls into depression, is hospitalized, loses his boyfriend, loses his job, moves from NYC back to his family’s home in Allentown, PA. He contacts Greta, because she is the most angry, because her face has been all over the news, via email. Sometimes. Sometimes, he deletes the emails (after relaying them to the audience). Greta then relays her responses to the audience, and deletes. Bradley is also bereft, and herein lies the problem with this play.
You cannot equate Greta’s grief to Bradley’s grief. After a tragedy such as this, the public never hears about the siblings of the shooter. The siblings face no reckoning. So after listening to Bradley for about an hour, he starts to sound a little self-indulgent, and the play’s balance tips heavily toward Greta. It was not a surprise when, after yet another email from Bradley, Greta comes onstage and shouts, “Leave me alone!” half of the audience yelled out, “That’s right!,” and “Yes!” Greta’s next line is, “Why should I feel sorry for you?” And the audience continued yelling. They were rooting for Greta. We all were.
The harder play to write would have been a two-hander with Greta, who lost Astrid, and the mother of the mass shooter, who also lost a child. That is murkier ground. That is a morass of an aftermath, because grief is not logical: Greta would be well within her right to blame her. “How could you not know?” she might ask. “What kind of a mother does not know?” But that is not this play, and it seems like an opportunity missed.