On Nov. 20, 2006, at around 9:20 a.m., an 18-year-old former student of the Geschwister-Scholl-Schule in Emsdetten, Germany, returned to his alma mater with two rifles and two pistols and went on a rampage. Twenty-two people were injured in the high school shooting; the shooter, who shot himself, was the only fatality.
Shortly thereafter, Lars Noren, Sweden's best-known living playwright, created a monologue called The 20th of November. The script is 95-per-cent composed of words straight from the perpetrator's video diaries and blog entries. The play premiered in 2007 – and has since been performed all over Europe.
On Sept. 17, 2015, at approximately 8:05 p.m., the English-language premiere of Noren's play began at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto. It was translated by Gord Rand, directed by Brendan Healy and Sina Gilani played the shooter.
About an hour later, a man walked out of the play – which Healy staged with the audience sitting in a large circle with the shooter, as if we were all at a giant group-therapy session. Half an hour after that, I ran into the man who walked out, on my own way out. The following is a 95-per-cent accurate account of what we said to each other.
Critic: Why did you walk out?
Man: I felt like it was boring and long – and self-consciously trying to be alternative or counterhegemonic when it wasn't at all. Teen angst, like, with a lot of pauses while we glare at you. And the idea is that we're complicit, right? That we're supposed to feel bad somehow.
Critic: Yeah, did you feel –
Man: You just take a guy's notebooks, right, and go blah-blah-blah. We already know that already. And I was looking around at all these people at an opening who look, frankly, white and bourgeois.
Critic: So, what did you do for the last 20 minutes or so while it finished?
Man: I'll tell you: I tried to go take a [expletive] in the McDonald's and it was a hard time getting in the bathroom and they didn't have TP – and it was a real thing. And I phoned my girlfriend. [He points to his girlfriend, who has wandered up.]
Girlfriend: I'd have left out the McDonald's story.
Critic: What did you think of the actor? I thought he was kind of chilling.
Man: He was fine, for that redundant cadence. I don't think Buddies has been a place of subversive or dangerous theatre for a long time. I don't know where that is, right now. Not in Toronto – it's just a neo-liberal, yuppie city.
Critic: I was torn about the play because there have been school shootings here by guys with messed-up manifestos. Why give time to the ramblings of someone who shot up a school entirely to be remembered?
Man: I'm a high-school teacher. I teach at [redacted] and I taught at alternative schools before that. Yeah, so you'd think I'd have a vested interest in it.
Girlfriend: If you're doing this for an article, don't put in where he teaches.
Man: I just don't like seeing youth reduced to these clichés, either, you know. Do you feel like it taught you about why people are alienated and might do something like that?
Critic: I feel like what he was saying is like a lot of what I read on the Internet from all sorts of gross minds all the time. That was maybe the thing that bothered me about the show – or maybe actually got to me – is just how banal this language is. You stumble upon it in comment sections.
Man: Maybe they should have put a spin on it. Didn't Andrew Scorer and Tracy Wright do this kind of thing before already – record something and then repeat it back verbatim? [He's talking about The Seaford Tapes, an early experiment in verbatim theatre from 1992.] You weren't bored, eh?
Critic: No, I actually thought about walking out a couple of times when the actor confronted us directly. I thought that was the provocation.
Man: Oh, you thought I did the right thing.
Critic: Yeah, that's why I wanted to talk to you. I thought you were the one non-complacent audience member because you walked out on the disgusting garbage he was spouting.
Man: Maybe they should have ranged the material a little bit? It just felt like this thing designed to make the audience feel guilty or something.
Critic: Yeah, I was annoyed to be lectured by this guy. Like, about how we're obsessed with big cars. I biked here.
Man: I don't like cars. But you're supposed to be bad and evil if you have a car? Is that what they're saying? I don't like capitalism, either. I'm an anarchist and I'm with Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. Is that what that was about?
Critic: Well, in the end, he said he was an anarchist, actually.
Man (sarcastically): Oh, I get it. Okay.
Critic: There was nothing coherent about his critique of society. But, then, it almost all came from his actual blog.
Man: Yeah, I knew that before coming. Which made me worried.
Critic: Fair enough. Well, thanks for your time.
Man: Take care.
Critic: See you around.
The 20th of November continues to Oct. 4 (buddiesinbadtimes.com).