Best New Drama (2007)

Defining Code Red, by Justin Koren

Defining Code Red was the gutsiest play performed in South Florida this year, a drama that didn't so much penetrate the fourth wall as exist outside of it from the beginning, intersecting with its audience in dangerous and unpredictable ways. On the morning of February 3, 2004, seventh-grader Jaime Rodrigo Gough was stabbed to death in a bathroom at Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay. Justin Koren, a Southwood alum who was, at that time, building a theater career in New England and the U.K., got the news via e-mail and was instantly galvanized. Three years later, he had interviewed virtually everybody who had something to do with the event and who was willing to talk about it. Koren then distilled these debriefings into the haunting, unclassifiable Defining Code Red. It's not a finished work, one hopes — there are scenes that could do with some editing, and some that might benefit from getting scrapped altogether — but there are also scenes that you'll remember months later, more clearly and more powerfully than the intervening months themselves. When the action leaps from police station interrogations to the discovery of the boy in the bathroom; as it speeds up past the point of comprehension, the memories too adrenaline-drenched to properly order; as the names of all the country's dead kids are memorialized in a grisly faux-graduation — breaths catch, hearts break, and you are ashamed at your own ability to stay calmly seated. These are scenes so visceral and nakedly passionate that they could only have been drawn from life itself, and a standing ovation seems like a woefully inadequate response.


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