Directed by Ramin Gray
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I like to imagine him in that night,/A trial berserker/An orphan in the moonlight,/Walking, singing, patrolling the bins by the coastal path,/looking for a tribe to protect.” Claire in “The Events”
Reportedly, Anders Breivik – the rightwing extremist who bombed a government building in Oslo, Norway in 2011 killing eight people then shooting sixty-nine more in a youth camp – smiled at his trial in 2012 when he was declared not to be insane. To have been declared insane would have been “the ultimate insult.” Odd concern for a mass murderer. Breivik claimed to have committed the murders in an effort to “battle multiculturalism” in Europe.
“The Events,” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop, was inspired by playwright David Greig’s visit to Norway in the fall of 2011 to research this attack and massacre and by his meeting with a female vicar who ran a community choir. Their collaboration – along with other interviews – further inspired the character of The Boy and the overall structure of “The Events.”
In “The Events” Claire (Neve McIntosh) is a clergyperson who embraces and champions multiculturalism. “We’re all a big crazy tribe here,” Claire tells The Boy (Clifford Samuel) when he visits her choir rehearsal. The Boy is both the perpetrator of the shooting of the members of Claire’s choir, including her murdered partner Catriona, and the visitor to whom Claire tells her story. Mr. Samuel also plays Claire’s psychologist, the father, the friend, the journalist, and the politician. These assorted characters all attempt to make sense of the mass shooting that took Catriona’s life and the lives of other members of Claire’s choir.
Under Ramin Gray’s inventive direction, the cast and visiting choir rehearse the events that led up to the shooting and the attempts to understand the motives of the killer, including Claire’s visit to the perpetrator at Peterhead Prison. These events are not examined ad seriatim or on any recognizable timeline which makes “The Events” a thrilling roller-coaster ride into and through the recesses of the human minds of the victim and the victimized.
Ms. McIntosh and Mr. Samuel deliver powerful performances with honesty and authenticity. There are times one wishes for more modulation in tone and volume in their deliveries although Mr. Samuel succeeds in differentiating his characters. Chloe Lamford’s design is sparse and stark and provides the perfect playing space for Mr. Greig’s visually expansive play. Charles Balfour’s lighting design – also minimal – skillfully counterpoints the action of the play. Magnus Gilljam excels as pianist and is the ultimate “church choir director.” The Westchester Choral Society – the visiting choir on Saturday February 28 – fulfilled the role of Greek Chorus with ease and expertise.
At one point, The Boy responds to Claire’s question, “What are you” with the following: “I am a Europe-wide malaise/I am a point on the continuum of contemporary masculinity/I am an expression of failure in eroded working class communities/I am unique/I am typical/I am the way things are going/I am the past./I am the product of the welfare state/I am the end point of capitalism,/I am an orphan/I am a narcissist/I am a psychopath/I am a void into which we are drawn./I am sick, dead, lost and alone./I am a blankness out of which emerges only darkness and a question./The only question it is possible to ask./What is to be done with me?” The Boy rehearses all the possibilities of why he went “berserk” and challenges the audience to contemplate how many other “Boys” are “out there” on the brink of “berserking.”
Director Ramin Gray affirms, “Going to the theatre in ancient Athens was a civic duty. It was here that important issues were collectively considered by the community.” The playwright’s “The Events” is a dramatic model for a contemporary spin on the ancient practice. Perhaps this model should be utilized after every horrific event in the life of a community. Seeing this important play before it closes should be a priority for all serious theatre-goers.