In Kristiana Rae Colón’s Good Friday, an abused soul does the unconscionable in response to the unforgivable, exacting vengeance (or administering justice, take your pick) by shooting students on a college campus.
The play’s bravest stroke is allowing the shooter room enough to build a case for the massacre, despite the intense discomfort that’s likely to cause your average audience member. Its greatest weakness is in resorting to leftist boilerplate to argue the case. Much of what people say in Good Friday sounds like it was issued by some political action collective out of Oberlin College. Appropriate as that may be given the academic setting, the rhetoric ends up obscuring personal choices that lie at the heart of the piece.
There are even bigger directorial problems. Tara Branham’s staging tries for a sense of immediacy but achieves chaos instead. Much worse, it fails to exploit the black comedy that’s aching to be released from Colón’s script. Where this world premiere (billed as a collaboration among Barnham, Colón, and Oracle Productions) cries out for a bold sense of absurdity, it comes across as merely grim.
That’s the nutshell. Any further discussion requires giving away a crucial secret or two, which I’m about to do. So here’s my trigger warning: Abandon all surprise, ye who read further.
Good Friday opens on a feminist studies class meeting to analyze Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The real subject, however, is the preoccupations of the four female students and their nominal mentor, a professionally stymied adjunct named Asha.
Shots and screams are heard. Asha and her students make the horrifically reasonable assumption that some man has gone berserk with an automatic weapon. But when their barricaded door is breached, the shooter turns out to be a woman, Emme, who’s decided to bypass a misogynistic judicial system and mete out her own punishment for the gang rape she suffered at the hands of some athletes. Her victims were apparently all perps.
Emme’s mission generates surprisingly little debate in itself. What’s more important for the others is (a) whether they’ll be next and (b) how this fits in with their various ideologies—a particularly fraught issue inasmuch as Emme’s accomplice, Natalie, wants to turn the rampage into a social-media event. Her idea is to get campus women to read Emme’s confession into their smartphone video cameras, put the result online, and expect viral clicks. A sort of ice-bucket challenge for mass murder.
Colón—also an activist at the helm of the ongoing occupation of “Freedom Square”—takes on a vast array of issues in Good Friday, from gun violence to rape culture, intersectionality to the folly of academia. But her central message concerns the dangers of expecting anything worthwhile to come from the echo chamber of the Internet. She’s found a bitterly funny way to send that message. Problem is, nobody involved is laughing. v