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How Soon Is Too Soon?

May 14, 2007

One of the most interesting things about Aaron Loeb's new play, First Person Shooter, is its ability to tell a story about very raw current events with such a panoramic point of view. Loeb wrote his play about a video game company that finds itself blamed for a teenager's gun rampage around a Midwestern high school in response to the Columbine shootings in 1999. But just a few weeks before the play opened at SF Playhouse, the American conscience was hit by another round of gunfire in the guise of the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Most films and plays created about news headlines tend to take a single perspective on these events. A cursory glance at the upcoming slew of movies based on the present war on Iraq underscores the point. No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah, stars Harrison Ford as the general leading the 2004 charge into the western city controlled by insurgents. The Los Angeles Times says this film "resembles the straightforward tales of heroism Hollywood turned out during World War II." Even more unconventional fare, such as Stop Loss, starring Ryan Phillippe as an Iraq veteran who refuses to return to the country when ordered to do so, very much looks at events from a unified point of view.

The unified perspective allows artists to make artworks about events that are still very fresh in people's minds. Lacking the clarity and thought offered by distance, a strong, single-minded viewpoint helps people to make sense of events when emotions are running high. If an artist attempted to create a more diffuse view of an event, seeing it from multiple perspectives when it's still so new, the project would most likely be shelved completely, because the subject matter would be considered too raw and immediate and close to the bone for people to handle it being approached in such a multi-faceted way.

Loeb's play allows the audience to see a 360-degree view of the fallout after a school shooting. We see the story from the perspective of the video game company, the killer, the parents of the deceased, and even the lawyers and consultants hired to mediate between the different parties. The playwright is able to do this because of the time that elapsed between Columbine and the opening of his play. Now that another calamitous piece of news has by chance given this work extra significance, it appears strangely both timely and detached from current events. It's an odd phenomenon, one which I haven't deciphered completely. I am going to write my next essay for SF Weekly on the production, so maybe I'll be able to figure it out by then.

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