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Radical forgiveness

"Shattering" has its world premiere at the Tacoma Little Theatre

Jonah and LaBelle are two young lovers in this story of trauma and forgiveness. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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It's a rare treat to be able to see a world premiere play in our neck of the woods, which lends an air of special buzz around the staging of Shattering at Tacoma Little Theatre. After winning the AACT NewPlayFest, Shattering became one of six scripts chosen to be staged at six theaters across the country, and it just so happened to land in Tacoma. There was excitement on the night of the premiere, with playwright Pat Montley in attendance, as well as a representative from AACT, and one from the Jack K. Ayre and Frank Ayre Lee Theatre Foundation to present a check to TLT. The feeling was a sense of pride for TLT and Tacoma in general.

But what about the play?

It's easy to see why Shattering's script caught so many eyes, as it features the admirable (and possibly detrimental) quality of being almost overstuffed with ideas: the complexities of forgiveness and retribution, the violence of income inequality, the war between atheism and Christianity, the trauma of sexual assault, the seductive pull of the gang lifestyle, and a spectral conscience commenting on it all. At times, Shattering feels manic in its attempts to hit all of these beats, which can be thrilling, even as it verges on becoming draining.

The story reveals itself gradually, but here are the nuts and bolts of the premise: 15-year-old Jonah (Donovan Mahannah) has recently become the foster child of DeeDee (Robin McGee). Their relationship is terse on his end, coupled with an almost saintly amount of patience and affection on her end. It's only after some time do they address how these two came to meet: Jonah, a member of local gang the Lords, was the lookout when two of the Lords tried to rob Sonny (Joshua Hector), but ended up killing him in the process. Sonny's mom DeeDee then took Jonah in, for reasons that later become clear.

Much of Shattering comes down to Jonah and DeeDee learning about each other, and from each other. The chemistry between Mahannah and McGee is one of the show's biggest highlights, with the two of them selling the strangeness of the situation, and the heartache at the center of it all. Hector, appearing in flashbacks and as the ghost of Sonny, is new to the stage, but adds weight to a backstory that's more complex than it initially seems. Cynthia Kinyanjui does wonderful work as Jonah's girlfriend LaBelle, but is let down a bit by a character that could've had more shading.

As I said, this play has a lot on its mind, which doesn't always work out -- the issue of religion gets a lot of time, and might have been better suited to being its own standalone piece -- but as a whole it's a very compelling work. Director Chris Serface handles this material sensitively, delicately presenting even some shocking moments of violence. Shattering is a thought-provoking play that will leave you with plenty to chew over with your fellow attendees afterward.

SHATTERING, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 9, $20-$25, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

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