What would you do if your life was suddenly changed forever by a lone gunman? What would you do if your child was suddenly taken away from you by a single bullet? What would you do if your child was the gunman and his murder/suicide left you with more answers? Would you want to speak the parents of the your child’s killer? Would you be able to grieve with the parents who lost their child because of your son?
Mass, the feature debut from writer-director Fran Kranz, is a suffocating, emotionally drama that never releases its grip as it showcases two families trying to grieve and look for answers from each other. Feeling more like an intimate play, the dialogue and performances forces its viewers to watch these characters go through all the stages of grief as they deliver raw and emotional lines as they’re trapped within their own pain. Stripped away from a large setting and a big budget, it is violent, passionate and raw as these parents attempt understanding the horrific aftermath of a school shooting.
Taking place in a church, which represents the character’s search for both literal or spiritual answers, Judy (Breeda Wool) and Anthony (Kagen Albright) set up a table and four chairs in the parish basement giving off vibes of a stage manager preparing for the start of a theater performance.
As Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) approaches the church, they carry the weight of gun violence but are they the parents of the mastermind shooter or the one who lost their child. The answer isn’t clear and as a spectator you don’t know how to approach this couple. Keeping this information from the audience helps build the tension and allows the performances penetrate with each emotional beat before the audience has a chance to form an biased opinion or take anyone’s sides.
The room is heavy, weighed down with angry and resentment not just towards each couple but within themselves. Then comes Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney), the difference in emotion and body language between the two couples makes their relationship clear before a single word is spoken.
Isaacs’ Jay feels cool and calculated like a politician with all the answers but no plans for action. However, no amount of preparation and expectation can stop the overwhelmed feeling of losing a child and each speech delivered to and from him chips away at his stoic facade. Plimpton’s Gail is passive constantly in a fog of disrepair. While Birney’s Richard simply is dismissive as he repeatedly states he doesn’t want to be as Dowd’s Linda is a shattered shell of self-hatred and self-blame.
Mass is painful and draining as you watch these fragile characters discuss and dissect each other’s pain, anger, sadness, resentment and emptiness under the guise of speaking for their dead. Even though it will leave audiences feeling drained, it superbly portrays the grieving process, that reminds us that while life doesn’t provide all the answers, it can offer opportunities to ease the pain but just not when we want it.