The Events
Julia McNeal as Claire, Caleb Cabrera as The Boy. Photo: Jessica Palopoli.

The Events

Shotgun Players

Ashby Stage, Berkeley, California
Written by David Grieg
Directed by Susannah Martin
Starring Julia McNeal, Caleb Cabrera
Through June 4, 2017
https://shotgunplayers.org/

The aftermath of a horrifying mass shooting is not the cheeriest subject for the theater, although these days, it is unfortunately a necessary one. “The Events,” written by David Grieg in response to the shocking shooting by a Right-wing extremist in Norway in 2011, is a 90-minute exploration of a survivor’s response to such an attack. Grieg’s tough and tender portrayal of Claire (outstanding Julia McNeal), the religious leader of a community choir who lived through an assault, explores how a victim may come to terms with its psychological repercussions. Although the attack has occurred before the drama begins, its effects are felt throughout the presentation.

Highlighting “The Events” are two superb performances by Julia McNeal as Claire, and Caleb Cabrera, as the Boy, although Cabrera plays many roles, including the Boy-shooter, Claire’s partner, a schoolmate of the shooter’s and a psychologist. Julia McNeal seems to embody the character of Claire, a gay women who embraced multiculturalism and acceptance. As a result of the shooting, however, she channels through differing levels of sleeplessness, rage, obsession, and revenge and retribution fantasies, before she finds her way again at the play’s conclusion.

Caleb Cabrera, terrific as the Boy and the other roles, is intense when he needs to be, yet at other times, becomes peculiarly bland, particularly when, as the Boy, he attempts to explain why he acted as he did. Cabrera demonstrates the Boy’s restless physicality as he climbs gracefully upon the theater’s ledges.

Also playing a leading role in “The Events” is the community chorus. Each evening, a different local choir appears on stage, and functions as Claire’s community chorus as well as a traditional Greek chorus. Talented director Susannah Martin (“Caught”) commented: “They are Claire’s choir. But they also act as her conscience, the Greek Chorus, and, most importantly, the community in which we live; the community that comes together each night in a shared space to talk, to wonder, to rage, to grieve, to commune and, of course to sing.”

I had feared that having a local choir perform would be hokey, a device simply inserted into the play that would not be an integral part of the experience. But I was wrong. Playwright Grieg originally added the choir early in his thinking after listening to one at a local suburban school where he had stopped to pick up his dramaturge’s mother. He said in an interview, “I had this feeling that I was just bathing in restorative humanity.” And the choir does add a compassionate touch profoundly needed in this performance.

Although there are nights that I might wish to be entertained by a Noel Coward play, rather than be churned by the likes of “The Events,” it is a provocative, forceful and ultimately humanitarian two-person tour de force that should be seen for its fine acting, taut direction and vital message.

This article originally appeared on Berkeleyside.com

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Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.