Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Events
Guthrie Theater

Also see Arty's reviews of Rodney King, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Murder for Two


Lesley Hart and Clifford Samuel
The Events was written by Scottish playwright David Greig in response to the 2011 mass killing of 77 people at a Peace Camp on Utøya Island in Norway—that, and all the killings of its kind that came before it. Greig has created a fictional set of events: the slaughter of members of a multicultural choir by a young black man acting alone. There is no hint of conspiracy or membership in a terrorist group. We do hear the shooter.

One actor plays Claire, a lesbian minister and director of the choir, who survived the ordeal but was victimized by survivor's guilt and a need to understand why this happened. A second actor plays the unnamed shooter, as well as a host of other roles including several people who knew the shooter in differing capacities, Claire's psychiatrist and Claire's partner Catriona.

Along with these two actors, the stage is occupied by a complete choir, playing the part of Claire's multicultural choir. At times the choir repeats parts of the text in unison as a sort of Greek chorus, and at other times individual choir members step out to read particular lines. Under the aegis of Actors Touring Company, The Events has played in many settings in Europe and the United States, at each stop inviting local choirs to take the part of the on-stage choir. A number of choirs are participating during the play's run at the Guthrie. Opening night featured ENCORE!, an ensemble of the Twin Cities Women's Choir.

Much of The Events feels like stream of consciousness in Claire's mind, as she recalls the shooter's first appearance in the choir rehearsal room; Claire inviting him to join them in song; his rail against the subjugation of aboriginals by western invaders and that he kills to protect his tribe rom softness; his messianic comparisons between himself and Jesus, Bob Geldof and Gavrilo Princip (who fired the shot that precipitated World War I); the terror of the shooting, of being in hiding, and of direct confrontation with the shooter; questioning the shooter's father, school chum, psychologist (who describes him as "empathy impaired", a diagnoses to which Claire takes great objection) and his political idol. There is a round of "frequently asked questions" read by individual choir members (such as "What is your favorite movie?" "Do you hate foreigners?," and "Are you a virgin?") like the audience of a daytime talk show. We also witness her argue with Catriona about her consuming obsession with the events.

Claire imposes various forms of therapy on her choir—shamanistic chants and shrieks, relaxation exercises, exotically concocted teas, deconstructing familiar songs—to seek healing, ostensibly for the choir, but really for herself. She finally gains permission to meet with the shooter at the prison in which he is confined. He appears childlike, responding to her questions in the most literal manner, as if not grasping how much harm he has done to this visitor. His account of the circumstances that led to his purchase of a gun are especially gripping. Claire is torn between her desires to seek revenge and to gain understanding, to know why this atrocity took place, but even as the shooter answers each of her questions, there are no answers. It appears that the shooter himself no longer understands his own actions, nor can he draw a link between his past and the present moment.

By intent, The Events is disturbing, as sometimes strong drama must be. However, it could also be rather dreary without two actors who breathe the fire of life into their characters. Lesley Hart accomplishes this as Claire, vocally and physically dramatizing her torment, making it clear that, though she survived the events, she is forever more to live as a victim of them. We see her mind jump from one obsessive thought to another, as she searches for some point of certainty on which to cling. We feel the great courage that drives her to search for a truth that can explain what has happened, even at the cost of pushing others away.

Clifford Samuel is every bit her equal as the boy, and the host of others inhabiting Claire's mind. He shifts seamlessly from one role to another, using nothing more than voice and posture to mark the change. Even as Claire's partner Catriona he is fully believable, expressing both great affection and deep disappointment in the course of their relationship since the events. As the incarcerated shooter, he manages to invoke sympathy even as we are fully aware of the heinous crime he has committed. The use of one actor to play a multitude of parts seems not intended merely to show off the actor's craft, but as a way to present Claire's obsession with unearthing the cause of this calamity; she sees everyone who is in any way connected to the events as a manifestation of the boy with the gun.

As the lights dim, ENCORE! starts things off by performing their own snazzy arrangement of the 1921 jazz standard "There'll Be Some Changes Made." In the course of the play, the choir sings old songs, such as the hymn "How Great Thou Art," pop songs like Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" (the shooter's favorite song) and several compositions by John Browne, written for The Events, such as a reprise of the shooter's ruminations on "By the Time He Was My Age," turned into a rockin' gospel anthem, and another anthem with the empowering refrain "We are here." There are also vocalized backgrounds without words that add depth to particular moments. ENCORE! sings beautifully, with whispering gentleness or rafter-raising force, with music director Joe Bunker accompanying on an upright piano.

There are no costumes to speak of, other than Claire's clerical collar. The set consists of choir risers across the back of the stage, a table for serving tea, and the piano. Stacked molded meeting room chairs are set out by Claire for the choir to sit upon at one point, then restacked—none of it for any visible reason, other than giving Claire a way to channel her need to create order. Sound and light design reinforce the strong feelings throughout the play.

There are some curiosities about the play, such as when the choir sings "We are Here" a curtain hanging behind the risers is raised to reveal the back stage wall, though for no obvious purpose. The end offers a shard of hope to be based more on wishful thinking than on anything in the preceding ninety minutes.

The sum effect of The Events, though, is shattering. It lays bare how an act of extreme violence not only ends lives, but can tear the lives of survivors so asunder, that their former selves are as lost as those buried in the ground. At the same time it posits that there are no easy answers to the question "why?". Are forgiveness and love enough to move on from such tragedy? We are left with no clear answer, except that we must continue to try. As we can barely go through a week without another headline screaming of another senseless killing, The Events demand our attention.

The Events, an Actors Touring Company production presented by the Guthrie Worldstage Series, continues through November 1, 2015, at the Guthrie Theater's McGuire Proscenium Stage. 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55115. Tickets from $34.00 - $64.00. Student, Senior (65+) and active military discounts available. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org. Rush seats available 30 minutes before performance, $20.00.

Writer: David Grieg; Music: John Browne; Director: Ramin Gray; Designer: Chloe Lamford; Lighting Design: Charles Balfour; Sound Design: Alex Caplen; Music Director: Joe Bunker; Stage Manager: Tree O'Halloran; Company Stage Manager: Jacob Corn; Associate Director: Polina Kalinina; Technical Manager: Jon Jewett; Design Assistants: Tom Mays (lighting), and Reid Resja (sound associate);

Cast: Lesley Hart (Claire), Clifford Samuel (The Boy)

Choir performing on Opening Night: ENCORE! an ensemble of the Twin Cities Women's Choir, Artistic Director: Randi Grundahl Rexroth. Other participating choirs and their performance dates can be found at GuthrieTheater.org/choirs_participating_events


Photo: Dan Norman


- Arthur Dorman


Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region


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