A coming of ‘Rage’ story

Spring theater production premieres with a bang

%27Rage%27+was+in+session+from+Thursday%2C+Feb.+27+to+Sunday%2C+March+1.+

Ryan Miller

'Rage' was in session from Thursday, Feb. 27 to Sunday, March 1.

Ryan Miller, Associate Arts & Life Editor

This past weekend, Quinnipiac’s black box theater transformed into a 1970s classroom not only for its cast but also its audience. For just over two hours, the Quinnipiac theater department took the crowd hostage as it debuted “Rage,” an original play based off a Stephen King novel of the same name, as well as another King work titled, “Guns.”

“Rage” came with as many trigger warnings as it did talented cast and crew, as the play centered around the issue of gun violence, specifically in schools.

The play opens strong, fittingly showing off its impressive actors and visual effects from the start.

Michael Pemberton, a veteran actor performing courtesy of the Actor’s Equity Association, begins the story at a desk behind a typewriter. He first appears as the writer of “Rage” as he watches a breaking news update. Suddenly, a montage of newsroom clips and presidential press conferences are flashed before the audience’s eyes on a large screen alongside the writer.

The special effects, which hooked the audience, tell the all too familiar story of gun violence leading to deaths in schools. The writer shows disgust at the notion that his book is to blame, even partially, for these senseless acts. He vehemently denies that he deserves any blood on his hands for the murders, an idea that is explored later in the play. Pemberton gives a steady performance throughout, as he proves he can handle several roles by wearing many hats both literally and figuratively.

The anti-hero of the story, Charlie, brought to life by Kevin Cathey, soon arrives to begin meddling in the writer’s head. After convincing the writer to open up “Rage” and revisit his work to think of what he’s done, we are thrown into the main story.

Charlie, depicted as an angsty teen, visits with his principal — who is also played by Pemberton — to discuss his behavioral issues, namely having assaulted a teacher a month prior. Cathey’s conniving performance as Charlie is highlighted in scenes like these where he verbally dances in circles around his scene partners while simultaneously physically shifting around. After being told that he’s been expelled, Charlie returns to class to gather his belongings.

The students’ teacher, Mrs. Underwood — portrayed by another actor from the Actor’s Equity Association, Mariah Sage — confronts Charlie as he enters, but within seconds the actors froze as Charlie exposed his firearm from his bag. As the colors of the scene visibly greyed with the actors motionless, the vibrant color red radiated from Charlie’s shirt and the screens behind him.

As the scene continued, Mrs. Underwood was shot dead and things began escalating. From there, Charlie draws a line across the floor in chalk, threatening to kill the remaining seven students if they dare to cross it. This mirrors the audience’s experience, setting up a boundary between the two parties while also building the suspense paired with your commitment to remain seated.

From here, the play shifts gears into what is something of a mixture between “The Breakfast Club” and “Thirteen Reasons Why.” Each character has a story to tell, and each scene delves deeper and deeper into Charlie’s psyche and what caused him to snap.

Frank Scott steals the show as Ted, the golden child of town who seemingly can do no wrong. As the mayor’s son and former star of the football team, each of the other students’ stories find a way to tie back to Ted.

The other students in the classroom all shine as well. Sandra (Tess Adams), Susan (Kayla Jarry), Pig Pen (Liam Devlin), Carol (Emily Kane) and Pat (Jamien Jean-Baptiste) all contribute both to helping calm Charlie down and exploring some of the reasons why they all have their own rage and reasons to “get it on.”

Those personal stories include topics such as teenage sex, poverty, alcoholism and drunk driving, sexual assault, racial profiling, police brutality, parental abuse, parental neglect and general peer pressure and bullying.

Charlie gains the respect of his captives by pinpointing ways in which adults have mistreated, misled or neglected them, especially in scenes when he turns the table on his guidance counselor —another one of Pemberton’s roles — to grill him on his personal life and decisions. 

Several negotiations with the police chief later, Charlie is granted a few more hours with his captives. Having revealed his own history of physical abuse from his alcoholic father, Charlie finds satisfaction in watching his classmates gang up on and torture Ted.

In this jaw-dropping scene, Ted is beaten by all of his classmates until his hair is splattered in ink. The blue ink is not only smeared on Ted, but also the writer as he struggles to grip his copy of “Rage.”

The ink is the most powerful metaphor in a show filled with great ones. The color blue represents the adults who were no help to the struggling children. Additionally, blue represents the town’s police force, and the prominent adult figures in Charlie’s life who wore the color.

It also brings the writer’s arc full circle, for as much as he wanted to avoid having children’s blood on his hands, at the end of the day he instead found his hands covered in ink. He may not have killed anyone himself, but his work did no favors in preventing it.

Following the show, the cast and director stuck around for a talk back. This isn’t the first time the faces of “Rage” have done this, as last month they held an open discussion about the play.

Director Elizabeth Dinkova was the one to first contact King for permission to adapt his stories, and she spoke about that experience.

 “What was difficult was getting the courage to ask, I had reached out a few days after the Parkland shooting,” Dinkova said. “Why is this happening? Who’s to blame? The book gave a very complicated and truthful answer.”

While some actors such as Varon opted to not read “Rage” before the play to focus on developing their own take on the characters, Cathey did over winter break. 

“The feelings you get after reading it, it’s so incredible,” Cathey said. “You can see where people take that, those feelings of rage and not having that outlet to decompress their anger, you can see where not having that can push someone over the edge.”

Although the skeleton of King’s original version of the story remains intact, Dinkova also said that she took a few creative liberties. This also included carefully deciding how to address certain touchy subjects.

“We didn’t want to work in generalizations because we all have a preconceived notion of what these types of people are right?” Devlin asked. “But anyone who goes through the right amount of wrong experiences can be pushed to this.”

The play was lengthy and heavy enough simply for an audience member. For the student actors who will soon return to their normal school routines now that the show is over, they still had to carry the weight of the topics for a month of rehearsals and five performances.

“It got difficult at times for a lot of people, I went home and cried once,” Kane said.  “Others went home and cried several times.”

As the show taught however, in the appropriate setting, these topics need to be addressed, and it is not addressing them that can sometimes do more harm than good. Luckily, Dinkova reiterated that Quinnipiac’s support was consistent throughout, allowing for the department to do just that.

 “(The experience) has been transformative for us as artists,” Dinkova said. “I hope the conversation can continue.”