Claire, a Scottish priest, obsessively tries to understand the mentality of a young man (known only as “The Boy”) who conducted a mass shooting at the local choir she directs. This NYTW staging of The Events, which premiered at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, portrays Claire’s search with disorienting and haunting dexterity, a perfect fit for its restless, troublesome content.
The shooting and its effects on Claire are told in loosely linear, fragmented scenes. The fact that the play manages to maintain such reverberating energy throughout such heavy material is a testament to its two actors: Neve Mcintosh and Clifford Samuel. McIntosh plays Claire with an astounding balance of anger, frustration, and hope in her arsenal. Claire claims that her “soul” left her body at the moment of the shooting and she has not managed to recover it since. Her grief and confusion leave her with neither identity nor direction. That emptiness in crisis, which anyone who has experienced loss or mourning can identify, attempts to fill itself with endless, circular thinking: What drove this man to such a horrific crime? How do we move on from tragedy while still honoring the dead? What would have happened if the killer had been embraced by a more loving family? Was this preventable? Is forgiveness possible and who does it actually benefit? These questions aren’t meant to be answered. Rather, any healthy solution to grief is to somehow accept the fact that answers are not possible.
At every performance, a different regional choir plays the part of Claire’s choir. The choir is comprised of the town’s misfits (queer youth, single mothers, the disabled and mentally ill, etc.) searching for an open, inclusive community, which makes the symbolism of the shooting all the more potent. Choir members are given a handful of speaking lines, though for the most part, much of the play seemed new to the members. It appears that the choirs prepare only their musical numbers in advance and perform with only minimal knowledge of the play as a whole. Essentially, they are as much an unknowing audience as we are. This is not to the play’s detriment. Rather, it allows the choir to retain a facet of innocence and untouchability– the events of the play happen to them as much as the shooting happens to its victims.
Claire’s pursuit leads her to various members of the community (her psychiatrist, a journalist covering the events, the leader of the xenophobic political party to which the killer belonged, her girlfriend), as well as to the killer himself, all played by Clifford Samuel. Samuel gives an incredible physical performance particularly as the killer, whose preparation for the shooting involved channeling fox-like movement and drinking wild animal urine in order to achieve a drug-induced violent frenzy of tribal warrior prowess. In one of the most evocative scenes in the play, the Boy prowls the stage as a fox after drinking the urine, pouncing onto the piano with catlike agility while Claire narrates his preparatory ritual. Then, the Boy vomits and recovers, promptly morphing into Claire’s girlfriend for a new sequence of events. They kiss, likely with an aftertaste of vomit, and soon have a fight about Claire’s reluctance to recover. Claire tries to stop her girlfriend from leaving by aggressively embracing her and they topple onto the floor. Claire tries to remove her girlfriend’s shirt but it only makes it over the head when the girlfriend morphs back into a haunting, ghostlike embodiment of the Boy, who now climbs over Claire and taunts her with unexpected force. Watching the power relationship between Mcintosh and Samuel’s characters evolve and change so fluidly and dramatically is uniquely exciting; it brings to mind the masterfully imbalanced, disorienting, power dynamics of Venus in Fur. Throughout Claire’s recovery, her relationship to the killer is unstable– sometimes imaginative, but always with very real psychic and physical effects. These transformative scenes are perfect for the theatrical space and succeed with an awe-filled potency that only theater can provide.
The Events, written by David Grieg and directed by Ramin Gray, plays at NYTW through March 22nd. Tickets Here.