Play at Allens Lane revisits school massacre

Cast from left: Connie Giordano, Brian Rock, Doug Cashell, Zarah Rautell, Susan Mattson and Marissa Wolf in Allen Lane Theaters Premiere production of 26 Pebbles. (Photo by Scott Grumling)

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. Just as a ripple spreads out when a single pebble is thrown into the water, these 26 deaths had a rippling effect not only on the victims’ immediate families, but also on the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut.

Eric Ulloa, who wrote the play “26 Pebbles” about the tragedy, which will be performed March 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 at Allens Lane Art Center, 601 W. Allens Lane in Mt. Airy, talked to the Local last week about the play’s conception.

“Once the news organizations got their story right up to the time when the (gun control) legislation didn’t pass in Congress, everyone just sort of left because the story was officially over for them,” Ulloa said. “I felt that there was a whole community that was still grieving.”

Initially, Ulloa, 34, also an actor who won the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award for 2017, thought he would just walk around and collect people’s stories. “Then, a friend of mine recommended that I talk to Moises Kaufman, who made ‘The Laramie Project,’” he said.

“The Laramie Project” is a 2000 play by Kaufman about the reaction to the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. “Kaufman was extremely gracious,” Ulloa said. “He told me about the pitfalls in writing ‘Laramie.’ He also said I had tools available to him that he didn’t have at the time like Facebook and social media.”

Ulloa recalled doing his first interview with a woman named Joanie. They were supposed to meet in a coffee shop, but as soon as he walked in, she immediately became uncomfortable. Later she said, “I just feel uncomfortable. It’s not right for me to talk about this because I didn’t lose anybody.”

Ulloa, a first-generation American whose parents are from Cuba, replied that she lost people in her community if not her immediate family. “You lost your innocence,” he said. “Unfortunately, now you are Newtown. Before that, not everyone could have pointed to Newtown on a map or told you what state it was in, and NOW everyone knows. What I thought would be a 30-minute conversation ended up turning into an hour-and-a-half. She had so much she wanted to talk about and release.”

Later that evening, he received a phone call from Joanie, saying, “Oh, my God, that felt so good. I literally lifted so much off my shoulders.” Joanie said she had two friends who also wanted to talk to him, and soon two friends became four and four became eight. Before it was over, he did a total of 60 interviews.

Ulloa said because the Sandy Hook school shooting was “such a horrific and gruesome event, the play has very little to do with the actual shooting … In the news you hear stories, but when you are sitting in a theater watching actors frantically running around who just want to know where their children are, you can’t help but emphasize because if it was your child, you wouldn’t know what to do. But after that, it’s basically about how a town heals and finds the power to lift itself up.”

Ulloa expected to “feel a world of sadness at first, but when I left there, I felt that the world is an incredible place because in a moment, in a place, where they were so torn apart and shocked, used and abused, the town found their inner light within darkness. They found the strength to say ‘This is what we believe in, and this is what we want to come of this.’”

Scott R. Grumling and T. Patrick Ryan, who are directing the Philadelphia premiere of the play, were impressed that Ulloa’s play doesn’t dwell on the horror of the actual event. Ryan, 53, said, “This isn’t an anti-gun or pro-gun play. The play simply states the facts and effects of gun violence on the community.”

Grumling added, “The characters come to a town hall six months after the shooting. There are times when the actors address the audience as well as interact among themselves. We hope the audience can emphasize with the characters in real life.”

Ryan said sadly that many of us at some point in our lives may be impacted by gun violence. After the March 10 performance, there will be a discussion about gun violence. The panel will include community leader and gun control activist Movita Johnson-Harrell, Scott P. Charles, Trauma Outreach Coordinator at Temple University Hospital, and Diamond Santiago, a teenage survivor of gun violence.

During the play’s run, Allens Lane Art Center will also host the photo exhibit “Souls Shot.”

“For this exhibit, artists were paired with families of victims and created portraits to illuminate those precious lives,” Ryan said. “The goal is to focus beyond the statistics and see the individuals and the cost of gun violence to our community.”

For ticket information: 215-248-0546 or For more information about “Souls Shot”:

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