A play for these times

March 3, 2018

These days, young people are leading the way.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Florida high school, teenagers are speaking out on the need for the United States to rein in gun violence. Despite being personally attacked by Second Amendment absolutists, these boys and girls remain passionate about sensible gun reform. They are making a difference, if not with legislation — yet — through what is happening on the ground around the nation.

Already, private businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and The Kroger Co., are raising the age that guns can be purchased to 21, regardless of local laws. (Federal law already prohibits firearms dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21). Several stores also are voluntarily stopping the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Retailers aren’t waiting for legislators to feel empowered enough to fight the gun lobby and pass a law. (It is good to report, however, that New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich is one of three senators introducing new legislation to ban bump stock devices, which allow semi-automatic firearms to operate essentially as automatic weapons. May it be signed into law quickly.) But even without legislation, these business owners are acting. This is a powerful movement.

Locally, our students are speaking out, letting adults know that they are tired of feeling unsafe at school. They are planning protests, too, and even have the backing of school officials. Students won’t be suspended in Santa Fe schools for marching against gun violence.

Then, there is artistic expression, always important in dealing with grief. At Santa Fe High, a theater production is placing the tragedy of school shootings front and center. Drama students there are performing in 26 Pebbles this weekend, a play so timely that it likely will be difficult to watch. (It opened Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Performing Arts Center, 2100 Yucca St. Visit www.santafehigharts.org for more information.)

The play, by Eric Ulloa, focuses on what happened in Newtown, Conn., after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people died before the gunman took his own life. This would be a hard topic for a school drama department in any year; performing it just weeks after 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida will be gut-wrenching

But good for the students — and for director Reed Meschefske — for taking on such a tough topic, something selected in the weeks after the mass shooting of concert-goers in Nevada but before the latest senseless gun tragedy. If the topic were not distressing enough, Santa Fe High also has faced various threats since the Florida shooting, leaving the school community shaken. Principal Carl Marano, who approved the play when Meschefske presented it as an option last fall, himself was the subject of a threat.

The best drama deals with the most exacting of human topics — loss, tragedy, pain and suffering — as well as the human ability to overcome such obstacles.

For most of us, as horrific as mass shootings are, as much as we mourn with the victims, the reality is that our lives continue. For the families of Newtown, Conn., and others who have been victims, the pain is always with them. With each new incidence of gun violence in the United States, they bleed a little more and revisit that first, excruciating pain. Their loss is always beneath the surface, ready to explode.

Seeing 26 Pebbles is a way to remind the rest of the world that the suffering from gun violence has become a part of life for too many of our fellow Americans. Playwright Ulloa went to Newtown immediately after the shootings, interviewing some 60 people after the tragedy, putting together a docudrama-style play. The real people of Newtown, from preachers to police officers to gun owners to moms and others, relay their feelings about this most unspeakable tragedy. Through it all, the human spirit perseveres.

It is powerful witness to the violence at the heart of our country, performed by young people. Because these days, they are leading the way.