Alfred University News

Alfred University students meet playwright Dan O’Brien, see play “Newtown” at Geva Theater

Nine Alfred University students joined members of the English Division faculty, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at Rochester’s Geva Theater last week to watch “Newtown,” playwright Dan O’Brien’s dramatization of events surrounding the 2012 school shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults.

“Newtown” debuted April 16 at the Geva, three weeks after O’Brien visited Alfred University courtesy of the University’s Grove-Jacobsen Fund. His visit included serving as a visiting instructor in two creative writing worshops and reading the second act of “Newtown” at a gathering in Scholes Library.  

The act depicts a one-hour meeting in the aftermath of the shootings between three people: the two parents of a child killed at the school, and the shooter’s father. The names of the characters are changed, although the action is based on an unrecorded meeting between Peter Lanza, the father of shooter Adam Lanza, and Alissa and Robbie Parker, the parents of six-year-old Emilie Parker, who died at Sandy Hook.

O’Brien based “Newtown” on extensive research including the book “An Unseen Angel,” Alissa Parker’s memoir, and a “New Yorker” profile of Peter Lanza, father of Adam.

While the playwright read all three parts for his Scholes Library audience, students and faculty at the Geva Theater experienced the drama enacted by three actors. That action followed the first act of “Newtown,”  an extended monologue by the mother of the shooter as she attempts to communicate with her son the day before the shootings.  

It was a singular experience watching “Newtown” after listening to O’Brien lead a creative writing class and read from the play, according to fourth-year student Elizabeth Sidenstecker.  “It was like getting to know him three times over. He read it so well that when I saw it on the stage, I could still hear his voice.”

The trip was Sidenstecker’s first visit to the Geva Theater. Watching “Newtown” was preceded by a dinner shared between the students and faculty at the Rochester restaurant The King and I. “The dinner beforehand was a bonus,” Sidenstecker said. “It was cool just being in a different setting with other students and the professors.”

Alfred University’s Grove-Jacobsen fund was established by Alfred University English Professor Allen Grove and his wife Amy Jacobsen, who worked in Alfred University’s Office of Advancement before moving to Ithaca, where she now works for Cornell University. The fund supported O’Brien’s visit to Alfred University in addition to theater tickets and dinner.

Grove and three other English faculty members – Juliana Gray, Susan Morehouse, and Heather Yanda ­– accompanied the students.