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Recent Tragic Events

Also see Sharon's review of Back of the Throat

Nathan Burgess, Dawn Burgess and Drake Simpson
September 12, 2001 - a day when most Americans not directly affected by the events of September 11 attempted to go about their business with a semblance of normality while still trying to come to grips with the myriad ways in which their lives had been irrevocably changed.

In Craig Wright's Recent Tragic Events, a couple meets on that day for a blind date they'd previously scheduled. When Andrew knocks on the door of Waverly's Minneapolis apartment, Waverly still hasn't heard from her sister, Wendy, who lives in New York. Waverly gamely tries to proceed with the date, but every time the phone rings, she becomes the concerned sister who hopes like hell that this is the call that will tell her everything is all right. Ultimately, Waverly suggests they move the date to her apartment so she can wait by the phone. She invites Andrew to sit beside her on the couch and hold her hand, not in a "date way," but as another human being. And that is where Recent Tragic Events finds them - as people who have thrown off the trappings of "first date behavior" for the more intimate connections of human beings trying to make some sense out of the previous day's tragedy.

But what makes Recent Tragic Events an involving piece of theatre is that, before the show, an audience member is asked to flip a coin. The result of the coin toss, we are told, will affect the play. During the play, certain events will occur (or won't occur, or will occur differently) as a result of the coin flip. And each time such an event happens, a soft, almost-scientific tone will sound - alerting the audience that what we have just seen would have been different had the coin fallen the other way.

This device has a remarkable effect. Each time the tone sounds, it invites you to speculate on what the other coin-flip would have produced. How would this have been different? How will this choice play out for the rest of the play? And, what's more, you might start speculating about what other events in the play will prompt that tone. Will Wendy's fate be determined by a coin toss?

As the play proceeds, Andrew and Waverly are joined by Ron, Waverly's annoying neighbor (whose obvious friendship with Waverly is something Andrew had never planned on having to compete with) and Nancy, a nearly catatonic woman who wears nothing but a T-shirt and sits staring blankly (through her fallen hair) at the mind-numbing televised repetitions of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

But something else happens in the second act - the concepts and concerns that may have been floating around the audience's heads thanks to the coin-toss-generated tones now become explicit. The play adds in a visit from author Joyce Carol Oates (played by a sock puppet on the hand of the actress playing Nancy - don't ask; it works) and the fivesome finds themselves discussing free will and determinism. Were the events that put Andrew at Waverly's door that night simply a random series of unlikely events resulting from the exercise of free will? Or did Andrew, Waverly, and everyone else simply think they were acting independently, only to find themselves in the situation in which they had always been fated to be? And once you think you might have figured that one out with respect to the coincidence that Andrew and Waverly fill their bookshelves with exactly the same books, the play raises the questions with more important events - the events of September 11 and whether Wendy did or did not find herself in harm's way.

The superb cast keeps Wright's smart play on target, creating real characters whose future we care about. Dawn Burgess delivers up a Waverly who (with the help of a drinking game) tries her best to have a good time, while never really losing track of her fear for her missing sister. Burgess's real-life husband Nathan Brooks Burgess gives an almost delicate portrayal of her date, a man who is so overwhelmed by how perfect Waverly seems, he makes a quick run for the door the first time Waverly leaves him alone. Drake Simpson's Ron makes the audience immediately dislike him by injecting himself into Waverly and Andrew's date, but he also shows himself capable of holding his ground in a philosophical debate with Joyce Carol Oates. And Tara Orr pulls off perhaps the most difficult job - giving the sock puppet sufficient gravitas and intelligence that we actually accept it as Joyce Carol Oates.

Credit should also be given to Stuart Rogers for expertly directing this cast through this play in a way that raises questions in the audience's minds without ever sounding preachy. It's a thought-provoking play that leaves its mark. Of course, if you hear a tone after reading this review, perhaps it wouldn't necessarily have been.

Recent Tragic Events continues at Theatre Tribe through July 22, 2006. For information, see

Theatre Tribe presents Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright. Directed by Stuart Rogers. Assistant Director Brice Williams; Producers David P. Kronmiller and Billy Minogue; Stage Manager Daston Kalili; Backup Stage Manager Jen McLean; Set Designer Jeff McLaughlin; Lighting Designer Luke Moyer; Sound Designer David Kronmiller; Publicist David Elzer, Demand PR; Technical Director Doug Lowry; Graphic Designer Sara Shapley; Original Set Artwork Elizabeth O'Brick and Ellen Mattesi.

Stage Manager - Kyle Colerider-Krugh
Waverly - Dawn Burgess
Andrew - Nathan Brooks Burgess
Ron - Drake Simpson
Nancy & Joyce Carol Oates - Tara Orr

Photo: Sara Shapley

- Sharon Perlmutter

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