Killer Verse

Suicide Kings unleash a poignant, brutal narrative on school violence.

A thunderous presence at poetry slams and open-mike nights such as Tourettes Without Regrets (hosted by their own Jamie DeWolf), the Suicide Kings spoken-word trio unveiled a knockout at the Oakland Metro on Saturday, a play that beautifully incorporates their visceral verse into the brutal narrative to a school shooting. It goes on to two shows at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco this Thursday and Saturday before the Oakland group takes it on the road.

The Kings’ In Spite of Everything isn’t the only show right now that’s inspired by the 1999 Columbine High massacre. This month SF Playhouse premiered First Person Shooter by playwright and videogame exec Aaron Loeb. That both were in the works before the even more deadly Virginia Tech rampage makes them all the more sobering. Clearly there’s something in the air.

Geoff Trenchard, Rupert Estanislao, and DeWolf play themselves, constructing a chillingly plausible scenario in which the three lead a poetry workshop at a public school (as they often do in real life) only to find themselves under harsh scrutiny when one of the students goes on a shooting spree.

Accompanied by a suspenseful score by cellist Sam Bass of Loop!Station, a nonlinear format gives each Suicide King a chance to shine while being interrogated by the other two, and in flashbacks to each poet reciting his hard-hitting autobiographical poetry to the class. Though at least some of the spoken-word pieces are preexisting, their themes of rage and alienation are well chosen and well integrated, driving home the point that they’d all had the same feelings that led this kid to do what he did. They just gave themselves a chance to grow up and laugh about it later.

Scenes in which they play other characters are also remarkably effective, including one with DeWolf as the killer’s father, Estanislao as another alienated metalhead who was the closest thing the shooter had to a friend, Trenchard and DeWolf as detached cops reconstructing the crime on the scene, and all three as hilariously gauche TV commentators. Just plain chilling are a roaring rumination on guns and an eerily eloquent recounting of the Columbine killings running backward in time.

It’s a little rough around the edges — the opening show started 45 minutes late, and a scene-changing school bell rang at eardrum-splitting volume — but that very roughness seemed to serve the show rather than detract from it.

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