David Greig’s “The Events” becomes its title. The play, which opened at the Guthrie Theater on Friday, becomes an event in which audience, actors and singers are asked to break down the facade of drama and form a town hall for 90 minutes. Our modest aim? To make sense of the senseless, put reason into insanity and stop every bad thing that might happen in the world.
The news from Oregon last week makes it sad to report that “The Events,” written after a 2011 mass killing took 77 lives in Norway, is still relevant and urgent. A production directed by Ramin Gray of London-based Actors Touring Company, this is a cathartic howl on some level.
Two actors, Clifford Samuel and Lesley Hart, are joined on stage by various Twin Cities area community choirs. The actors play characters who lead what essentially is a gathering in which we participate, even if that means merely being present.
We are met on a bare stage set with risers, a table with coffee and teapots and cups, a piano. The choir greets us with a smiling rendition of the song “There’ll Be a Change in Me.”
In an opening monologue, Samuel’s character asks us to imagine an aboriginal boy who centuries ago watched the towering sails of European ships come in from the ocean and land on his shores. Could he have ever imagined in that moment what the next few centuries would bring?
So when Samuel later says, “I don’t hate foreigners, I hate foreigners being here,” we are provoked to wonder whether to consider this on the terms of that native man watching the European invasion, or on the terms of Europeans who today watch immigrants and refugees flood their borders.
“The Events” is built on such simple complexity and confusion. Greig confidently throws it all into a jumble that defies definitive answers. When mass killings occur, we want to do something, fix something, prevent something. If only humans were that simple.
Later, Samuel’s character chants that at his age, Jesus had started a world religion, Bob Geldof had saved Africa and Gavrilo Princip had incited World War I. “What have I done?” he asks. “If I have to leave a mark on the world, I have to do it now.”
But why does that mark need to stain so many others?
Hart portrays Claire, a liberal clergywoman who lost a partner in the Norway killings that precipitated this meeting. Her soul left her and hasn’t returned.
Samuel portrays several other characters at the meeting, including the terrorist’s father, his friend, a politician and a journalist.
The choir periodically participates with the actors, reading lines from their scripts — a guileless community theater convention that breaks down the wall between stage and audience, and feels very downtown hip. It’s a lovely, earnest combination.
“The Events” is a disquieting, obtuse piece of theater. It is provocative and fragmented (like truth and life) and resists satisfying digestion. We are left to walk away with the same disturbed feeling we have after attending a real-life community meeting that doesn’t solve anything.
Greig has sliced off an ugly slab of real life and left it hanging there for us to look at and ask, “Will there be a change in me?”