For parents, one of the most chilling messages left behind by Columbine massacre co-conspirator Eric Harris was an attempt at an apology. Preempting a nation's collective vitriol that would soon be unburdened on his unknowing mother and father, Harris quotes Shakespeare in his and Dylan Klebold's confessional basement tapes: "Good wombs have borne bad sons."
Playwright Erik Gernand says he was inspired by an editorial defending the parents of Jared Loughner, the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson—though The Beautiful Dark could channel the narrative of any recent tragedy in this decade's rash of youth violence. Savant fiction writer Jacob (Aaron Kirby) flunks out of state college and moves back in with mom Nancy (Jacqueline Grandt) and younger brother Charlie (Jacob Bond), who looks up to his troubled brother with idealization and naïveté. When a concerned ex-girlfriend shows up at mom's office to reveal the real reason for Jacob's departure—submitting a graphic script and possible roman à clef depicting a school murder—Nancy and ex-husband Tom (Tommy Lee Johnston) must argue through their conflicting means for handling their son.
Compared to Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli's journalistic columbinus or Simon Stephens's richly layered and humanizing Punk Rock, both of which cover similar territory, Gernand's script, in Josh Altman's world premiere production for Redtwist Theatre, puts less stock in the questio of "why?" when addressing its disturbed protagonist's would-be crime. Gernand instead focuses heavily on whether or not the student's story is an indication of his mental health, even when the answer is playing out minute-by-minute on stage: Jacob is suicidal, hostile and uncontrollably impulsive. For a story that centers on the challenges faced by parents of violent children, a great deal of stage time is devoted to watching Jacob unravel when the end result is apparent from the beginning. While passionate and pained performances, especially from Kirby and Johnston, help convey the frustration and futility of managing the emotions of a person who can't control them, the more interesting conflict seems to stay in mom and dad's heads.