The University of Rhode Island Theatre Department will be putting on its first show of 2016, starting this weekend with “columbinus,” written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli and directed by URI’s Joe Short.

Originally premiering in Maryland back in 2005, the play made its off-broadway debut in 2006 and, as the title suggests, is based off of the events and atmospheres that sparked the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

columbinus is presented in the style of a docu-drama, with the first act not focusing on the events themselves, but instead set up around a group of archetypal characters at a generic American high school who are all based around a specific trait. The characters resemble the kind of people you would find at any high school, and include Loner, Freak, AP, Rebel, Faith, Perfect, Prep, and Jock. The second act then transitions into a re-creation of the buildup to the actual tragedy, including two of the characters transforming into the perpetrators of the massacre, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

columbinus obviously deals with a very sensitive topic, but the production staff ensures that the show goes beyond being just a staging of an American tragedy. Assistant Director Kyle Couture ensures that the show contains both a sense of relevance and power.

“It’s handled tastefully,” Couture said. “We’re not trying to scare anyone with it. We’re trying to state the facts and let you know that we can make a change if we all put effort in.”

Couture also sees the archetypal characters that the show presents as being a benefit to viewers.

“There’s definitely something for everyone in this show, specifically if you identify with one of the archetypes,” Couture said. “People could see themselves as Jock or Perfect, or maybe Faith. You may even find things that you recognize in ‘Freak’ and ‘Loner,’ but it’s important to be aware of these shootings and to understand why they are happening and that we can do something about them.”

Members of the cast agree that the show has a very important emotional purpose. Steven Carvalho, who plays Jock, believes that the style of the show will immerse the audience in its message.

“Each role plays a specific part in sending the same message across to audience members, showing the importance of every character actors have to step into,” Carvalho said.

Raymond Fournier, who plays AP, says he was originally concerned when a show based on such a big issue in this country was announced as a main stage production, but later felt like it was an important topic to touch on.

“What I feel we’re trying to accomplish with this piece is what goes on during these shootings; Introduce dialogue, emotion, the inner goings-on, because there’s only so much you can get from news reports,” Fournier said.

columbinus stars Belamy Brophy-Baermann, Emily Carter, Steven Carvalho, John Thomas Cunha, Christine Dickinson, Raymond Fournier, Diego Guevara, and Laura Kennedy. It runs February 25-28 and March 3-6 (With 3 PM matinees on the 28th and 6th) in J Studio at the URI Fine Arts Center. Following the February 28th performance, there will be a free post performance panel discussion called “Lessons of Columbine High School”. Tickets are $12 for students, $15 for URI faculty and staff, and $20 for the general public.