By: Isa Goldberg
February 6, 2020: If you think the problem of gun violence can be resolved in 17 Minutes you’re probably more of a cynic than an optimist. In Scott Organ’s new play at the Barrow Group that, ostensibly, is the issue posed.
At the center of it, Deputy Andy Rubens played vulnerably by Larry Mitchell, is the cop on the high school security beat, just the way he has been for most of his career. The play opens after a student has killed 18 people.
Sitting in the precinct Detective Morris interrogates the cop about the events that occurred during the 17 Minutes he stood outside the wall where kids were getting shot. Brian Rojas’ delivery is direct, quietly flabbergasted and ultimately stunned by the cop’s inability to act.
As directed by Seth Barrish it’s a fast-paced scene much like we’re accustomed to watching on Law and Order or any number of cop shows. But there are questions the cop can’t answer.
What did he do in the 17 minutes between calling the police and entering the high school after the disaster had taken place? Couldn’t he have moved faster? And would that not have saved all those lives?
The strength of the production resides in the humanity of the characters. And in the credibility of a handful of actors who together build an intense rhythm. It’s gripping to watch.
As portrayed by DeAnna Lenhart, Samantha Rubens is an emotionally wounded wife who is all too aware of her husband’s plight. Sadly, her efforts to be supportive appear to him as an indictment.
Michael Gieseplays the father of the shooter, a beer drinking blue collar guy with a collection of guns around the house. Those include the assault rifle his son carried to school that day he killed 18 people.
But the character who drives home the play’s moral is the mother of a deceased teenager who is well aware that 17 Minutes isn’t the time needed to protect children from gun violence. “No one is equipped to deal with this sort of thing. Not anymore.” Cecilia tells the suicidal cop, “It’s too big. A child with an assault rifle. It’s too big.” Lee Brock is poignant in a role in which no one could ever imagine themselves.
Known for directing Mike Birbiglia’s one man comedy shows, from Sleepwalk with Me to his latest, The New One, Barrish consistently demonstrates the ability to bring simple human moments truthfully to life. As much as Birbiglia is an everyman who we identify with, the character Deputy Ruben in 17 Minutes is simply a guy who thought he could help people. He’s an innocent who has never once used his gun on duty.
Performed in a small space with minimal set pieces that are moved in real time to create the environments of home, school, and the precinct, the production is lean and unembellished. Organ’s drama simply and clearly addresses the state of gun violence across America and the casualties of violence.
17 Minutes ****
The Barrow Group Mainstage Theatre
312 West 36th Street
Through February 15th.
Photography: Joey Moro