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Kids Act Out Real-Life Shooting

February 8, 1999

BEND, Ore. (AP) _ Under the glow of the stage lights, the skinny teen-ager in camouflage fatigues exults in the action-hero rush he felt when he gunned down his parents at home and shot his classmates in the school cafeteria.

If the new play ``Bang, Bang, You’re Dead″ sounds a lot like last year’s Oregon school shooting, it is. But its raw power comes from the cast _ 13 students who actually lived through the shooting at Springfield’s Thurston High School.

``A lot of people think we’re trying to put our tragedy on stage,″ cast member Betsy Reinhart said after a preview performance here Saturday. ``That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to spread a message.″

Playwright William Mastrosimone plans to donate his work to schools across the nation in hopes its in-your-face study of a killing spree will force young people to confront their culture of violence and do something about it.

``I wrote this from the pit of my stomach,″ said Mastrosimone, a screenwriter from Enumclaw, Wash., whose award-winning credits include the play ``Extremities,″ the movie ``The Beast″ and the TV miniseries ``Sinatra.″

``Bang, Bang, You’re Dead″ was written right after the May 20 Springfield attack, when 15-year-old freshman Kip Kinkel allegedly shot his parents at home and opened fire on the Thurston High cafeteria, killing two classmates and wounding 22.

Elements of real-life school shootings in Paducah, Ky., and Jonesboro Ark., are also rolled into the plot along with a chilling detail straight from the playwright’s home: A few days after the Springfield shooting, Mastrosimone’s son came home and described how a junior high classmate had written on the blackboard, ``Everybody in this class is dead meat.″

``My kids went to school the next morning, and as they walked down the driveway, I stood in the kitchen window with my wife, watching them,″ Mastrosimone recalled. ``Neither of us could say what we were thinking, which was, `Will we ever see them again?‴

That very night, a shaken Mastrosimone sat down and wrote the first draft of ``Bang, Bang, You’re Dead.″ He sent the idea to Thurston High drama teacher Mike Fisher, who discussed the idea with his students. They overwhelmingly wanted to do the play.

``This was never, ever to make us feel any better,″ Fisher said. ``This was about getting a meaningful play out to high schools.″

The one-act play is staged with few props _ just a few flashlights and a coffin-sized box _ to make it easy for kids to put it on themselves, whether at school or in their own garages.

It opens in a jail cell, where 15-year-old Josh sits with his head in his hands after killing his mother, father and five students. From the darkness emerge five spirits dressed in black, flashlights held under their chins. One by one, they demand an answer to the question: ``Why’d you kill me?″

At first they get flippant answers, such as, ``Because there was nothing good on TV,″ and bravado: ``I’m Bruce, Sly, Arnold and Jean-Claude all in the same pair of pants.″ Pressed mercilessly by his victims, Josh finally reveals he is wracked by the pain of his classmates laughing at him.

The dead reminisce about what they miss from life _ simple joys like ordering pizza and sleeping late, and more complex feelings like falling in love and someday seeing their own children graduate from high school.

Josh wonders why he can’t just hit reset, like on his computer games, then collapses in the realization that he can’t.

Cast member Nichole Buckholtz, who was shot in the leg in the Springfield rampage, said the play sends a powerful message that ``violence is not everything it’s cracked up to be. Whether you’re the shooter or the victim, you go through hell.″

The play will never be performed for the public at Thurston _ there is too much pain there still _ but once the final version of the script is done in the coming weeks, there will be a premiere in neighboring Eugene and Mastrosimone will post the script on the Internet.

After the preview in Bend, the 350 teens, teachers and parents who watched hugged and wiped away tears, then gave the cast a standing ovation.

``Oh my God, thank you for writing this play,″ high school senior Nikki Greenleaf of Bend told Mastrosimone. ``I bawled my eyes out. It’s like, `My God, I’m not the only one that feels this way.′ I’m amazed that a grown-up could get inside a kid like that.″

``I didn’t,″ replied Mastrosimone, giving full credit to the students of Thurston. ``I’m just the secretary.″

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