By Emily Csukardi
This spring, Glendale Community College Theatre department tackles the subjects of gun violence, bullying, school shootings and the ultimate question of “Why?” within the production of “Hello Herman” March 29 through April 6.
The play focuses on the character of Herman Howards, played by Josh Larsen, a sixteen-year-old student who faces execution after conducting a school shooting within his suburban neighborhood—killing 39 students and three teachers.
In the final days of Herman’s life before execution, acclaimed journalist Lax Morales, played by Ethan Mitchell, interviews Herman peering into his mind to decipher what led up to the shooting.
Written by John Buffalo Mailer and directed by GCC’s Mark Stoddard, “Hello Herman” contains strong language and scenes of violence, not recommended for children. For mature audiences, this production examines many themes of school violence and guns while remaining unbiased, which is key in making this play successful in its timely approach.
“[The shooting in] Newtown has been a tipping point for us. We need to say this story. It is a cautionary tale,” said director Mark Stoddard.
Throughout the course of “Hello Herman,” the audience sees a realistic portrayal of a boy affected by death, violent video games and media, bullying, racism and the idea of fame. Rather than giving the audience a direct answer on what led up to Herman’s deadly decision, the script and acting leaves the answer up to the interpretation of the audience.
“The show was simply great because it evoked emotions and pushed boundaries. It made you think after it was over and reexamine your own prejudices,” said Sam Wadella, GCC student and audience member.
Many of the students took on roles of violent, prejudiced characters with strong-minded beliefs. Among these characters were a group of white supremacists, who attempt to pressure Lax Morales into joining their group and committing violent acts.
By featuring a short panel discussion after the play, the cast and crew gave the audience an opportunity to talk about their reactions to the play and hear from the actors and crew about their roles.
“It was hard to get into the character. Everyone is brought up with their own prejudices; you have to harbor that and focus on it,” said Austin Kiehle, who played the role of Jim-Carl, one of the white supremacists.
One scene in particular, Lax Morales jeopardizes his morals when pressured to hurt a black student, played by Dickson Gray, with a baseball bat. The scene takes place within a small area on stage, in which Lax is surrounded by Jim-Carl and his group as Gray’s character shakes in fear on the floor. Scenes such as this leave the audience to wonder how difficult it may have been for the actors to reach such a level of understanding to portray these violent characters.
“You have to focus and channel something you do dislike. You have to harness that energy and portray that,” said Kris Jaus, who played the racist character Dougie-Dogg.
Josh Larsen’s portrayal of Herman Howards remained realistically honest—often times frightening. The scenes between Herman and Lax Morales were captivating, as the audience was able to explore the violent and twisted mind of Herman.
“The trick is that you can’t see yourself as the bad guy,” said Josh Larsen.
The ability to portray such characters within “Hello Herman” showcased a strong amount of commitment within the actors, increasing the believability of the play as a whole. While it is fictional, the themes within “Hello Herman” remain significant even after seeing the performance.
“Even though segregation was over a long time ago, it still exists. I was bullied, but never took it to heart. If I can take this in a positive way, you can,” said actor Dickson Gray.
For Gray, playing the role of a teenager affected by racism and bullying was more than simply a character.
“By playing this role, I hope to have an impact on someone’s life,” said Dickson Gray.
Hearing the views of the actors on the themes within the play during the panel discussion demonstrated the importance of these issues today.
“[This play] makes you think independently on how guns affect our world. As a group, we tried not to take a biased side. In a sense, it makes everyone look right and everyone look wrong,” said Justin Eldridge, who played James Hankley and Cameraman.
By presenting no strict definition of right or wrong, “Hello Herman” serves as an examination of the possible causes and tragic effects of school shootings without providing an explicit answer. In this way, the audience can gain an individual understanding of these issues presented. By following the play with the open discussion, the cast and crew leave the audience with a sense of awareness and clarity towards these significant topics, and how we can fight against them individually and together.
“Hello Herman” will be playing April 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the GCC Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $8 for General Admission and $5 with valid student ID.