Off Broadway Reviews
When the play opens, Deputy Andy Rubens (Larry Mitchell) is asked to give an official statement to Detective Virgil Morris (Brian Rojas), who has been assigned to gather the facts around a school shooting that resulted in the deaths of eighteen students. That fateful morning, Rubens was at his assigned post at the school, and stationed at another entrance was his partner Mary Stevens (Shannon Patterson), who eventually subdued the student gunman.
Rubens contacted the local police after the first sounds of shots, but rather inexplicably, he did not make any effort to pursue the perpetrator or to help the individuals holed up inside the school. He apparently did nothing for an entire seventeen minutes (hence the title) at which time the SWAT team arrived and whisked him from the scene.
The rest of the play shows the slow burn of responses as word of Rubens' acts reaches the community. For instance, we see the effect it has on his job, his marriage (DeAnna Lenhart is his emotionally distraught wife), and his relationship with the community. In a particularly tense scene, Rubens is presented as much of a pariah as Dan Watson (movingly portrayed by Michael Giese), the shooter's father who tacitly allowed his son access to an automatic rifle. As Watson says to Rubens at a chance meeting in a bar, "You just found the guy everybody hates even more than you."
Organ's writing shows admirable restraint, avoiding pitched emotional pronouncements about gun control, arming teachers and staff, and the failure to address mental health issues in teenagers. As becomes evident, particularly in a beautifully wrought exchange between Rubens and the mother (Lee Brock) of a slain student, the issue is much more thorny, and there are no easy answers nor obviously blameworthy targets, no matter how much we wish there to be.
The performances under Seth Barrish's direction are excellent. Mitchell plays Rubens as a hapless everyman, and he impressively exhibits the character's evolution from willful obtuseness to victimhood to overwhelming despair. The other actors masterfully demonstrate that tragic events ripple through a community and leave no one unscarred. As a loving and supportive wife, Lenhart shows the collateral damage to her own life, and even as Deputy Stevens is celebrated for her heroism, Patterson presents her as riven with confusion and self-doubt. Brock, who plays the tough-as-nails mother of a shooting victim, is heartbreaking in her short scene.
17 Minutes tackles one of the most pressing contemporary social problems facing the United States. While politicians, pundits, and concerned citizens debate the topic (or alternatively speak volumes through their silence), Organ's play accomplishes what the theatre does best: It presents this issue not as an emotionally fraught intellectual argument, but as a complicated and compassionate human drama.