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17 Minutes at Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar) Edinburgh

Picture, if you will, one of far too many school shootings in the United States. This play has a different take on what happened, looking instead at what didn’t happen. Andy Rubens (Larry Mitchell), a deputy sheriff, is at a local school as part of his regular morning duties – that schools in some parts of America routinely have gun-holding law enforcement officers during term time in the first place is indicative of how severe the problem has become. As far as Andy can recall, he heard gunshots, called for backup, and then attempted to look for the gunman.

17 MINUTES, photo by Edward T Morris.
17 MINUTES, photo by Edward T Morris.

When questioned by Detective Virgil Morris (Brian Rojas), however, it transpires that isn’t what happened. Andy had, for whatever reason, not moved from his post for seventeen minutes (hence the play’s title), by which time the gunman had been seized by his colleague Mary Stevens (Shannon Patterson). What does it matter? Are people really going to be concerned over whether a man or a woman stopped a killer in their tracks? Well – spoiler alert (or is it? This is, after all, America) – seventeen minutes is ample opportunity to use the gun on defenceless children, and so there are eleven fatalities, and three children are receiving hospital treatment.

What is striking at The Fringe is that the conversations are sometimes stilted, with questions asked – and answered – delicately. It’s a change from the Fringe shows that start at top speed and don’t stop until they’re through. It’s not that the relatively slow start that builds and builds to a crescendo doesn’t make for good theatre – it does – it just took a bit of getting used to. It also makes the show stand out!

Andy doesn’t face criminal charges, which is fair enough (the even-handedness and effectiveness of the American criminal justice system is for another play to consider), as he hasn’t actually committed a crime. But he becomes something of a social pariah – this appears to be one of those close-knit communities, not exclusive to the USA, where everybody sort of knows more or less everyone else, which goes some way to explaining Andy’s wife Samantha (DeAnna Lenhart) suggesting they just move away and start a new life elsewhere. That, and he could be fired anyway, American employment legislation being what it is – which apparently also means a substantial decrease in his public sector pension.

The crescendo I mentioned earlier comes in the form of a chance meeting Andy has with Cecilia Bauserman (Lee Brock), the mother of one of the deceased children. Cecilia is as angry as one would reasonably expect her to be, and in an emotionally intense scene, she – and the production – place blame in a collective manner rather than an individual one. It’s difficult to disagree with her stance in an explosive line of argument that succinctly explains how America ended up where it is in terms of school shootings.

There aren’t, interestingly, any proposed solutions to the school shooting phenomenon. People talk to one another in a way that comes across as very naturalistic – and this does not mean everyone is eternally smiley and polite. This production is evidence that shows don’t need to be loud and brash to have a powerful impact on its audiences. Sometimes less is more, and this play sticks to the point, without – to quote Just a Minute, “hesitation, repetition or deviation”. Plenty of food for thought in this intricate and compelling piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

An Ohio Sheriff’s Deputy hears gunshots at the high school he was hired to protect. What he does next will define the rest of his life, as well as that of his community. This powerful drama explores the repercussions of those 17 minutes of action and inaction on both the community and the Deputy, who struggles with his own part in the tragedy, and who seeks meaning in the wake of the shooting.

Director Seth Barrish
Writer Scott Organ
Stage Manager Allison Parker
Producer David Calvitto

Lee Brock
Michael Giese
DeAnna Lenhart
Larry Mitchell
Shannon Patterson
Brian Rojas
Notes Ages 12+, some triggering themes

17 Minutes
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), 13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2023

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