CCM’s “The Burials” is a gripping, touching, and immersive new theater experience
Review by Shawn Maus
Sophie is an engaged, smart, loving high school senior, whose life gets thrown into the spotlight after her brother, Ben, goes on a high school shooting rampage. The play examines the struggles between the need for civic responsibility and personal freedom in an America intent on avoiding solutions to problems at the cost of those closely affected.
Staging a theater piece about a school shooting is quite possibly one of the hardest tasks. By its very nature, you’re dealing with subject matter that many people don’t want to address. But Hess is never one to back down. He’s had a remarkable run in his 32 years at CCM. He retires at the end of this school year. Don't get the idea that this show is simply a melancholic drama. It contains powerful images, moments, and performances that are a dazzling new theatre experience.
The Cohen Family Studio Theatre is a perfect space for this intimate production. Student scenic designer Abigail Heyd has masterfully crafted a multifunctional set that evokes the school interiors and exteriors while balancing the color palette to place us in the living room of a modern upper-class McMansion. A huge wall on stage left serves the production design well as a jumbotron-like screen projecting news reports, text messages from Sophie’s phone, and right down to the seeping moisture of the wall in the school courtyard.
Student Media Designer Ian Macintosh’s multimedia projections are beautifully designed and ingeniously executed, expressing how today’s media - social and televised - barrage us, berate us, and beguile us.
The cast is truly talented and engaging. Hunter Trammell’s Ben, whose face is a shattered mask of anguish and vacancy, is both endearing and frightening - everything anyone says about a school shooter after he’s committed his heinous act. You really do want to know what’s going on in his head as he stares into the camera while texts scroll over his face on the projection screen.
Kevin Naddeo’s portrayal of politician/father, Ryan Martin, is carefully balanced between a cunning politician, a caring father, and an outright lost soul in denial of his surroundings.
I was especially taken with Maddie Gaughan who has star quality in bringing Sophie to life. She imbues Sophie as richly humane with courage in a way that is beautifully, heartbreakingly right. The supporting cast has been quite well chosen.
The Burials'' is as memorable, gripping, and touching a show as any of the ones I’ve seen.
On a personal note, Richard is not one to want the spotlight, but rather create the spotlight for someone else to take. He has been a teaching force for decades — helping foster the artistic environment that is both unique and vibrant in a town of this size. Bravo, Richard Hess. I will miss you. Happy retirement and cherish every moment of this time and revel in this new stage of your life.
“The Burials” runs April 21-24, 2022 at the College-Conservatory of Music. For ticket information visit www.ccm.uc.edu