By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Boston – Oxford English Dictionary describes “zeitgeist” as “The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” Continuing a tradition of producing timely-themed shows, Boston’s Zeitgeist Stage Company is culminating its 18th and final season by presenting the world premiere of “Trigger Warning,” a drama with a unique perspective on a school shooting.
Zeitgeist commissioned Jacques Lamarre of Connecticut to write “Trigger Warning.” Lamarre resides near Newtown, where the 2012 fatal shootings took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Helming the production is David Miller, Zeitgeist’s founding artistic director.
“Politicians didn’t take action after the killings of a bunch of kindergarteners and first-graders,” Miller noted. “Offering thoughts and prayers isn’t enough. We need to do something about gun control in the United States. We need to be persistent in that endeavor.”
This past fall, Miller directed Zeitgeist’s 2018-2019 season opener: “Vicuna,” a political satire about a Trump-like tycoon turned presidential candidate. Throughout Zeitgeist’s 18-year run, Miller’s productions have consistently earned recognition from Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards and Independent Reviewers of New England Awards.
Yet, Zeitgeist will close following “Trigger Warning” due to recent declining audiences and rising production costs. This closing follows the end of other Boston fringe theaters including Whistler in the Dark in 2014 after nine years, and Bad Habit Productions in 2017 after 10 years.
“Awards and nominations don’t sell tickets,” Miller said. “Producing with a fringe theater company is a very marginal existence where you don’t get a lot of support from grants and foundations. You’re living on the edge, trying to make it work with ticket sales and donations.”
After Miller applied for a grant for new works offered by the Boston Foundation, he met with Lamarre to discuss potential projects. Lamarre expressed interest in writing a play with a theme similar to the book “A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, parent of one of the Columbine shooters.
Although Zeitgeist didn’t receive the grant, they decided to write and premiere a play about a school shooting from the viewpoint of a teenage shooter’s family. The play’s shooter dies with other students in the rampage.
“The family had tried everything to help him – from spiritual counseling to therapists to medications,” Miller explained. “The play offers a unique perspective of a family that’s grieving, but not allowed to do it publicly because they’re shunned.”
On Feb. 26, a “Page to Stage” discussion took place at the Boston Public Library South End Branch. It was an opportunity for “Trigger Warning” cast members to present scenes of the new script, followed by a discussion about the process of preparing a premiere production.
“The cast read a couple scenes and then we talked about the play for the assembled group,” Miller said. “Everyone thought it’s very timely and the perspective is worthwhile.”
Miller is drawing on experience from directing another play involving a school shooting, “Punk Rock” presented by Zeitgeist in 2013. It won Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Director – Small Theater Company, and Outstanding Production – Fringe Theater Company.
“I applaud the Parkland students for continually putting it out there with their Never Again movement that something needs to be done about gun control,” Miller added. “I hope this play reinforces that message.”
“Trigger Warning” will be presented from Friday, April 12, through Saturday, May 4, at Boston Center for the Arts. For more information, visit zeitgeiststage.com.