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A CurtainUp Review

By Amanda Cooper

He's just like The Church, God never gives any answers, God's just another question. .
---Anthony Vaccaro
John O'Brien
John O'Brien
((Photo:McKay Imaging)
Successfully disturbing, from the sound of the first gunshot in the first minute, through to the last moment when a last rose (an image throughout the play) is revealed to the audience, Sniper does not provide any answers. But it does provide an undeniable sketch of one Anthony Vaccaro, an intelligent teen-ager whose breakdown involves murdering eight people.

Set in 1974, this play is based on real-life sniper Anthony Barbaro. The seventeen year-old Barbaro was a Regents scholar in Olean, New York when he took two guns to a third floor window in his high school, and made history as the first of many (37 as of the year 2000) documented school shootings in the United States.

At a time when our government is so intent on sniffing out foreign terrorists, this play reminds us that often terrorism can begin at home. The play follows Anthony through events from his past that have affected the incarcerated individual he has become. There is no defining moment showing what changed this big-hearted boy into the murderer he is fated to be, but it's clear that he did not fit the life he was born into -- a life without a home or a place for his heart.

After Anthony's moving introductory monologue, we are swept back in time to watch him as an eleven year-old. His parents are without education, patience or any common interest with their son, though they are in love and happy. Vincent Sagona and Kathy McCafferty present Louise and John Vaccaro with depth and appropriately flawed honesty. In the next moment, the worst possible news about Anthony's brother in Vietnam changes many things, including Anthony's innocence and his parent's happiness.

We continue to be offered interactions between Anthony and influential people from his past. There is his first love, the unpredictable and adorable Susan James (Nicole Raphael); the stoic, hard-working Father Keenan (Tony Neil) for whom Anthony is often an altar boy; and Tom Davis, the local football hero who is also an altar boy, and who surprisingly uses Anthony as his confidante. These scenes are relationship studies, careful not to blame our anti-hero's future on any one person, but showing us painful and possibly important milestones in Anthony's life.

Catholicism clearly played a large part in Anthony's life, first as a framework to live by, and then as a jumping off point for questioning authority. But as Anthony becomes a stronger individual intellectually and interrogates his priest, two of the play's weaknesses become evident: the religious undertones don't seem in sync with or relevant to the rest of the play; unfortunately, the talented and piercingly innocent John O'Brien as Anthony can't seem to find his footing within his new anti-church realizations.

The pacing, under Adam Hill's direction is at times plodding and the staging not always smooth. Still, Sniper provides much food for thought, with its non-stereotypical perspective on one of the country's first school snipers.

Written by Bonnie Culver
Directed by Adam Hill
Performed by: John O'Brien, Vincent Sagona, Kathy McCafferty, Tony Neil, Nicole Raphael, Sterling Coyne, Zack Griffiths and Erik Kever Ryle
Production Design by Ji-youn Chang
Set design by Bok-yung Youn
Costumes by Joseph Dawson
Sound by Erik DeAmon
A production of Center Stage Theater.
Running time 90 minutes, no intermission
Center Stage, 48 West 21st Street, 4th floor. 212.352.3101
Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8pm
January 19 - February 12th.
Tickets are $15
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on January 20th, 2005 performance.
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