By David Greig. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Pi Theatre production, presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Russian Hall on Friday, January 19. Continues until January 28
How do you heal from horror? The answer, in The Events, is communion.
Scottish playwright David Greig based his script on the 2011 mass shooting in Utøya, Norway, in which 68 people were murdered at a summer youth camp. Here, the victims are members of a choir of “seniors, refugees, immigrant mothers”, and others under the direction of Claire, a priest; the perpetrator is known only as the Boy. Claire survived the shooting, but her faith is shattered.
Greig’s script circles around “the events”, alternating scenes of Claire in their aftermath with monologues by the Boy leading up to the attack. He exhibits a dangerous combination of racism, idolatry, and ambition: “By the time he was my age,” he notes, “Jesus had founded a world religion, Bob Geldof had saved Africa, and Gavrilo Princip had started the First World War.”
After the crime, Claire becomes obsessed with learning more about the Boy. “How can I hate him if I don’t understand him?” she asks. We see her therapist and her partner discouraging this fascination, but we also see Claire interviewing the killer’s father and school friends, and later imagining herself in various scenarios that might have prevented the tragedy: smothering him as an infant, adopting him as a young boy, seducing him when he bursts into the church.
Greig’s script is lyrical, nuanced, and expansive in its exploration of the issues of terror, trauma, and grief. But the genius of The Events is its incorporation of a chorus. Each night of the run, a different community choir—whose members have neither read the script nor met the cast until just before showtime—joins the performance. The choir members not only stand in for the tragedy’s victims; they amplify the emotional impact of the loss through strategically placed songs and by their undeniably human presence on-stage.
Director Richard Wolfe sets a contemplative mood, and his cast of two turn in first-rate portrayals. Luisa Jojic imparts both determination and vulnerability to Claire; her performance is openhearted, even when that heart is broken. The Boy is far from a sympathetic character, but Douglas Ennenberg makes him compelling; he also shifts, chameleonlike, into a dozen other characters, each distinct and convincing.
Répétiteur, musical supervisor, and sound designer Mishelle Cuttler deserves acclaim for seamlessly integrating the choir into the show. At the performance I attended, the Chalice Choir of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver lifted us with their voices. Brad Trenaman’s lighting creates a number of intimate atmospheres for the play’s multiple locations, no small feat in the gymnasiumlike Russian Hall.
The Events takes you to a very dark place, but it is ultimately hopeful. And its deeply human music soothes the soul.