School in crisis in Michele Riml’s ‘Rage’ (premiering on 23 October at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, produced by Ambassador Theatre, directed by Joe Banno)
In Michele Riml’s* Rage, winner of the 2005 Sydney Risk Prize and 2008 winner of Jessie Richardson Award, an after school counselling session unexpectedly turns into a blood chilling ‘duel’ between a disturbed, radical student and his New Age, pacifist guidance counsellor, Laura. Disillusioned with life and day to day existence Raymond, who prefers to be called Rage, decides to take extreme measures to voice his frustration and uses his father’s gun to help him in his quest. Well- red, articulate and intelligent, able to control his emotions and pre-calculate his moves, he shuns the option of random shooting and instead singles out the guidance counsellor to hear him out, respond to his arguments and determine his fate.
Threatened with school expulsion, disappointed with school politics and hypocrisy of both teachers and parents, the suicidal teenager usurps Laura’s attention to defend his behaviour and convictions, challenging the education system and the counsellor’s personal values in the process. The gun he produces and later hands over to his ‘prisoner’ becomes a devilish tool in a life and death struggle of two desperate opponents. Does a pacifist abandon her ‘being peace’ attitude she lives by, and turn violent? Does the Hitler’s sympathiser end up annihilating a human being representing all he despises and rejects? The play’s intense and compelling plot and a provocative dialog will keep you on the edge of your seat, forcing you to think deeply and examine your own values in relation to the issues of peace, happiness, violence and gun control.
For a pupil to harm a teacher is generally regarded as a rare and deeply disturbing phenomenon. However, as the available data demonstrates, student violence against educators has become a common occurrence across the American schools. “Teacher victimisation is a nation crisis” according to Dr. Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has presided over the American Psychology Association’s Task force on Classroom Violence Directed at Teachers. When interviewed by Tim Walker from the National Education Association in February 2013, Dr. Espelage confirmed that according to the 2011 study, 80 percent of teachers surveyed were victimised at school at least once in a current or prior school year. Such common occurrences give rise to potential ultra-violent behaviours, such as usage of weapons against teachers and fellow students, as illustrated by the tragic trail of school shootings in the US.
The growing and death bearing crisis calls for strong and effective measures to protect both students and teachers, especially when, as Tim Walker reports,” the issue is generally ignored, down played or at least underreported by media” and as such poses a growing threat to the safety of school staff and students. With about one –quarter of teachers experiencing physical attacks, the survey emphasises an urgent need for increased training and vigilance in monitoring violent behaviour against school personnel, a result begging for immediate implementation and on-going assessment. Since the 2011 study, the US President has put forward a proposal for a wide-ranging plan ‘Now is the time’, to aid in protecting schools and communities by reducing gun violence and increasing resources to schools.
Whilst preventative measures are being developed and introduced, plays such as Rage are crucial in exposing the issue to the public and emphasising the gravity of the crisis. Extreme danger calls for extreme action. Riml, fully aware of the urgency of the situation, takes a bold approach leaving subtlety out, which may be regarded as too intimidating by some, especially those preferring to be told about violence and not confronted with it. Not afraid of ‘rocking the boat’, instead of keeping the gun hidden from audience’s eyes Riml gives it a ‘life’ and a full exposure. The graphic presence of the weapon and the way it is used in the play in front of the live audience is part of Riml’s strategy and her attempt to break us out of our comfort zone and show us the danger for what it really is – another life about to be lost.
Ambassador Theatre’s production, directed by Helen Hayes awarded Joe Banno, featuring Ariana Almajan as Laura Whalen and Marlowe Vilchez as Raymond Stitt, aims to turn Riml’s vision into reality with force and conviction. The rehearsals are underway and already the characters and their opposing view points come to life with all the tension and escalating danger intended. The actors move the story forward with passion, fast becoming the characters they play, getting lost in the souls and minds of an aggressive student and a pacifist teacher fighting a battle none of them can really win.
*Michele Riml is a critically acclaimed playwright from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her plays have been widely produced across Canada. They include Miss Teen, Under the Influence, Poster Boys, RAGE, Souvenirs, On the Edge, The Amaryllis and Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, the sequel to Sexy Laundry which has been translated and produced in Poland, Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, Mexico and the USA. Her plays for young audiences include, RAGE (also translated into French), The Skinny Lie, The Invisible Girl and Tree Boy (also translated into German). Michele was nominated for the 2008 Siminovitch Prize. She is represented by Colin Rivers at Marquis Entertainment in Toronto, Canada.