'Midsummer in Newtown': Film Review

Courtesy of Participant Media
A look at communal grief that is less universal than it may sound.

Musical theater professionals try to help schoolchildren cope with tragedy in Lloyd Kramer's post-Sandy Hook doc.

Children traumatized by the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary try to re-create some normalcy through theater in Midsummer in Newtown, Lloyd Kramer's doc about a Shakespeare production featuring locals aged 5 to 20. Seemingly determined not to use this subject as the springboard for bigger discussions of violence, gun rights, et cetera, Kramer focuses on the mechanics of a production that would hardly be doc-worthy if not for the tragic backdrop. It will play best where it was filmed, though it may attract some attention among educators in other communities.

In the wake of the killing of 20 first-graders and six educators in this quiet Connecticut down, New Yorkers including theater director Michael Unger decided to create a distraction for the survivors: A "pop musical" take on A Midsummer Night's Dream that would make parts available for players of every skill level.

Following the production from auditions to opening night, Kramer homes in on three children: Tain, a curly-headed kid whose exuberant audition reading of Jabberwocky wins over the producers; Sammy, who has been in an emotional shell for over a year since the shootings; and Ana, one of those killed that day, who is represented here by her parents Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene.

This tight focus keeps the doc from painting a very involving picture of what was surely a challenging task backstage, but it does afford plenty of sympathy for children and families who are just starting to cope. If Kramer seems disinclined to connect this suffering to the larger epidemic of gun violence in America, Nelba Marquez-Greene makes an effort in the film's most empathetic moment: Noting that her daughter was "easy to love," she asks us to consider those, like the shooter, who were not. "The next Adam Lanza is sitting in somebody's first-grade right now," she says — suggesting that the biggest mistake we could make is to allow that troubled child to feel unsupported in his formative years.

Production company: Documentary Group
Distributors: Participant Media, Vulcan Productions
Director: Lloyd Kramer
Producers: Tom Yellin, Braden Cleveland Bergan, Jo Budzilowicz
Executive producers: Paul G. Allen, Carole Tomko, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
Director of photography: Matt Peterson
Editor: Amilcar Gomes
Composer: West Dylan Thordson

80 minutes

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