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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
No wonder that many theater goers seek stress relief with escape fare. No wonder either that playwrights have long struggled to interpret such tragedies in theatrical terms.
After Anders Breivik attacked a Norwegian government building claimed 77 young lives in 2011 Scottish playwright David Greig and the Actors Touring Company's artistic director Ramin Gray took a trip to Norway hoping to find a meaningful way for Greig to dramatize the story. However, as they met with people who were affected by this horrendous event the playwright found it just too awful to write about. That is, until an unplanned visit to a local choir turned out to be the open sesame to use that Choir's sense of community as a way into tackling the play as more than just a horror story.
Greig saw that choir as the key into an at once small and large fictionalized drama. The cast would feature just two actors: a woman to play the choir master as a survivor trying to come to terms with what she experienced, and a male actor to play all the people from whom she seeks understanding. . .including the killer. But to enliven and intensify the theme that a community can provide some healing even if it can't undo what happened.
The result was The Events, a two-actor play with the addition of a local choral group. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe. While news of the play came up against accusations of exploiting tragedies, the inventive casting won the day. Greig had apparently managed to use the inspirational source to create something original and artful to qualify as art, and for viewers to think and talk about. Now the always adventurous New York Theater Workshop which last presented Ayad Akhtar's terrific, torn form the headlines The Invisible Hand, are giving New York theater goers a chance to see for themselves whether The Events is indeed a work of art that negates any whiff of exploit exploiting a tragedy.
While the play's focus is on lone wolf terrorism, of which this country has unfortunately had its share, for me the current events about individuals recruited to act as a group by the likes of ISIS add a disturbing new meaning to Greig's message about the power of tribal communities. And though Clifford Samuel ably reprises his multiple character performance from the London production, his change of identities is more confusing than ingenious. By the time you realize that he's morphing into a different character each time he moves to a different position on stage you may well have missed identifying a few of the characters addressed by Claire (passionately and convincingly played by Neve McIntosh).
My reservations notwithstanding, the Village Light Opera Group that serves as this production's Greek Chorus is terrific. And while Clifford Samuel's character shifts may take some getting used to, The Events is likely to trigger audience debates about the play's value in helping us to understand senseless acts of murder. If only these events were all past history and not likely to be followed by future headline making atrocities.