Edinburgh Fringe 2023
The play 17 Minutes explores the communal and residual effects of a shooting through Andy, a man who struggles with his own complicity in the tragedy, and who seeks meaning in the wake of the shooting.
Those in the audience at 17 Minutes might rightfully think that the show was written in response to the 2022 school massacre at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, where a former student fatally shot 19 students and two teachers with an AR-15 style rifle while police officers on the scene waited more than an hour to engage with the shooter. It is said that art imitates life, but sometimes art predicts life, and so prescient was playwright Scott Organ about the possibility of such a horrible situation that this play premiered in New York City more than two years before the Texan tragedy occurred. That this gripping American play has returned post-pandemic, with its superb ensemble cast fully intact, is a quiet, harrowing gift at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Set “somewhere in suburban America,” 17 Minutes can be described as a chamber drama divided into seven scenes spaced over two months, each effectively a duet between Andy Rubens (Larry Mitchell) and someone else involved in the aftermath of a school shooting. Andy is the security guard who waits the titular 17 minutes while a student shooter terrorizes several classrooms and kills several of his classmates. More interested in the collateral social damage that results from such a tragedy, Organ begins the play once the immediate terror has ended, with Andy being interviewed by a fellow colleague, Virgil Morris, a detective (Brian Rojas) whose job it is to ascertain the timeline of the day’s events. As Morris puts the facts together, Rojas shows his character’s inner disappointment in his fellow officer via his posture and the timbre of his voice, the resignation emanating physically. What is clear and established in this very first scene, and what is continued through the play, is that actorly pyrotechnics will not be put on fiery display; the devastation is quiet and individualized.
This approach thus relies more than is usual on the strength of its actors, and director Seth Barrish has the great fortune to be working with an ensemble of this caliber. He gets first-rate performances from his entire cast, and, sad as this story is, together they create theatrical magic. As Andy Rubens, Larry Mitchell is the constant thread in this tapestry, and his measured take on this all-too relatable and tortured protagonist is haunting. In addition to Mitchell and the terrific Rojas, the two women in Andy’s life likewise make strong impressions. Shannon Patterson demonstrates lovely grace as Mary Stevens, Andy’s cop partner, and DeAnna Lenhart portrays Samantha, Andy’s wife, with unexpected, steely stoicism and understanding. Lenhart impressively conveys the love Samantha has for her for spouse while hiding her own dread of what is to come. Rounding out the cast are Michael Giese, who makes a bold, memorable impression as a character I will not describe lest I ruin a surprise, and the wondrous Lee Brock as Cecilia Bauserman, the parent of one of the victims.
As discourteous as it may be to highlight one actor in such a faultless ensemble, I will nonetheless heap additional praise on Brock, who gives the finest performance I’ve seen this entire month in Edinburgh. In only one scene she manages to capture the anguished essence and lasting questions of this brilliant, important play: What is the cost of inaction? And where can the anger that results from inaction be directed? The great tragedy dramatized in 17 Minutes, of course, is that as long the answers to these questions remain unforthcoming, cries for mercy will continue unabated.