Play about College Shooting Offends Some

By Troy Brynelson, Associated Press

ROSEBURG, Ore. — The recently debuted play “Roseburg,” based heavily on the shooting at Umpqua Community College, has been met with a chorus of boos from Douglas County residents who call the work exploitative. Its creators, who say it raises important questions about America’s problems with gun violence, stand by it.

The plot of “Roseburg” intertwines the events of the shooting, in which nine people were shot to death by a lone gunman and nine more injured, with the 1968 campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy delivered an anti-gun speech in Roseburg during the Oregon primary, which he lost the very next day. He was gunned down less than two weeks later in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel.

“How disrespectful to put a mass shooting on display for people to watch. It’s disrespectful for those who were involved and for our community,” wrote Tasha Marie Jackson on Facebook. “Family and friends of lives lost, people injured, and those dealing with this (emotionally). No class Philadelphia.”

Playwright Ginger Dayle said she received over 500 total messages via social media, email and telephone that, she said, unfairly slammed her work without seeing it or reading the script. She estimated more than three-quarters of the messages were from frustrated locals. Some cast members have been called names and her own home address was posted online.

“I get called callous and mean and evil and it’s like ‘listen, I’m trying to educate you on (the play), and then they get mad,” Dayle said. “The negative opinions have made it very personal against me. One girl threatened to burn down the theater, called me a blonde bimbo, an idiot.”

The play is produced by the New City Stage Company.

Its retelling of the shooting includes archival footage of the news in the wake of the shooting as well as actors playing victims and the shooter himself. The shooting remains the deadliest in Oregon history. Many in Douglas County continue to grieve and fundraisers are still being put together to benefit its victims as the anniversary approaches later this year.

“Unbelievably wrong wrong wrong… and extremely insensitive to those that lost their life and the people who lost their loved ones,” wrote Patricia Gervais on Facebook Wednesday.

In Philadelphia, the play has been given tepid praise. “The Philadelphia Inquirer” called it “compellingly busy” while a review within the online arts forum “Broad Street Review” called it difficult to watch, but provocative in raising questions about gun violence.

Some have wondered whether Dayle is legally allowed to pen the play in the first place. In a statement Friday morning, she defended the material under “Fair Use” copyright law. She also compared it to “Frost/Nixon,” a play that famously dramatized an interview with post-Watergate President Richard Nixon and television personality David Frost, and other plays with sensitive subject material.

“Listen, there was a play about 9/11 that came out about six months after it happened called ‘The Boys’ and people were upset, and up-in-arms,” she said.

With the play, Dayle said she hoped to shine a light on gun violence and mental illness. She said about 40 percent of the play involves the events of Oct. 1, with dramatizations of the shooter’s relationship with his mother, the class on which he eventually opened fire, and the outside world through chat rooms and dating websites. About half of the play revolves around Kennedy, with general commentary comprising the last 10 percent.

Not everyone is picking sides. Melody Schwegel, the director of the local theater group Umpqua Actors Community Theatre, said that while she would probably never stage a production of “Roseburg” here, she respects the work if its mission is to affect change.

“As a fellow artist, I respect their creative output in contributing to performing arts. As a member of the community, I feel the wound is still too fresh,” Schwegel said. “… I’m not upset that something was written. I’m quite interested in getting ahold of the script and reading it. There is a healing process that happens in all tragedies. This may or may not be part of that process. We shouldn’t be too quick to judge the material.”

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