Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Commencement at Fringe.

Commencement written by Clay McLeod Chapman was brought to this years Orlando International Fringe Festival by Beth Marshall Presents. Beth had wanted to bring the play to past Fringe Festivals, but it was never picked in the lottery.

The play began with the mother of the shooter (Beth Marshall) seated on stage among the ephemera of youth in the children's wing of a hospital. A teddy bear leaned innocently against a plastic crate filled with toys. A jack-in-the-box sat on a small table next to her as she spoke. She recounted the tale of her son swallowing marbles to win the favor of a popular student. He nearly choked to death but his esophagus closed up forcing him to stop. It became clear that her son had been picked on his whole life. Beth was clearly emotionally shaken and on the verge of breaking down at any moment. She said she was sequestered away from the other moms, unable to share in their grief.

The mother of a shooting victim, (Jamie Middleton) took to the stage after Beth left. Jamie had lost a daughter. She was angry and bitter. Social workers and politicians had offered condolences but their words of comfort were not for her. She just wanted her daughter back. She had gone to the school commencement ceremonies to watch the other students graduate, she felt terror when her daughter's name was skipped over. Her daughter had written an inspired commencement speech that she could never deliver.

In stark contrast, a student school library volunteer, (Rose Helsinger) bounced onto the stage with youthful vigor. She knew the shooter better than anyone else since he was well read. He used to write notes in the margins of books and she decided to become his friend by writing notes in response in the margins herself. They had a long clandestine conversation in the margins of multiple books throughout the shelves. It was a romantic meeting of minds, but she never acknowledged him in the halls. The thrill came from the mystery of their relationship. She recounted the fateful day when she heard a series of pops as she sat in class. It could be the drum corps but the rhythm was sporadic. She was surprised to see her mystery library pen pal enter her classroom. He wasn't in her class. She thought he might have discovered who she was. There was an innocent thrill. But then she saw the gun and students dropped to the ground around her. She realized he didn't know who she was and then she felt a tightness in her chest.

The young girl's mom insisted that the shooter's mom read her daughter's commencement speech. In tears, Beth tried to read. This play is so powerful as it hits home in a community still recovering from the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The number of students shot was never clear but one number always came to my mind. The sadness was overwhelming. The performances stellar. A sobering show like this proves that the Fringe Festival isn't all about fun and games, it also is a showcase for inspired serious theater.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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