Through fractured memories and a shadowing chorus, a mass-shooting survivor searches for sense in the unthinkable. Intiman Theatre’s latest runs through August 10, with free tickets available to all.
The stage for Intiman Theatre’s production of The Events feels big — way too big. It’s about the size of an elementary school gymnasium, and it looks like one too, the floor painted in vivid swirls of color. The audience’s mismatched chairs look plucked from a classroom.
There are only two actors in Scottish playwright David Greig’s play. They dutifully introduce themselves and the characters they’ll be playing at the top: Sarah Harlett plays Claire and Conner Neddersen plays the Boy. It’s not the only self-reflexive moment in a play that’s structurally artificial but emotionally fraught. Greig’s examination of the reverberations of a mass shooting is unabashedly sincere, a piece of art engineered for maximum catharsis, with music as the vehicle.
And the yawning stretches of negative space in Timothy White Eagle’s scenic design? Perfect for visualizing the emotional state of an unmoored Claire, a priest who survived a massacre on her community choir, a group targeted for its inclusive multiculturalism. Greig based The Events on the 2011 Norway attacks that killed 77 people, but here in the mass shooting capital of the world, there are references that could apply to dozens of other events.
Claire is desperate to uncover the reason behind the Boy’s attack, combing through his published manifesto and seeking out every person who knew him. But the trauma has left her in a fugue state, and the play follows suit, drifting from scene to scene in a disconnected haze. Director Paul Budraitis allows for these gaps to make an impression, not rushing to connect the dots between vignettes.
In another play about a mass shooter, Office Hour, produced by ArtsWest earlier this year (see NWT’s review here), his possible motivations are examined from every angle. In The Events, the shooter is one blurry piece of Claire’s fractured memory. He’s both a chilling white nationalist who espouses an ancient type of tribalism and a pathetic kid Greig mocks. Neddersen deflates his own macho posturing perfectly in a bit about his exercise and diet regimen.
The shooter himself only has a few scenes, but the Boy dominates Claire’s headspace. Neddersen plays everyone else she encounters in her quest for closure: her therapist, the shooter’s estranged dad, the far-right politician whose ideas are markedly similar to those in the manifesto, Claire’s girlfriend who’s growing distant.
Harlett’s performance is remarkable in the way it’ll suddenly split open to reveal a howling chasm of pain, like in a scene where she’s desperately trying to keep her partner from drifting away. The physicality from Harlett and Neddersen here is gut-wrenching as Claire insists on a moment of tender normality that is no longer possible.
Harlett and Neddersen aren’t alone on stage. They’re joined by a choir, the role filled by a different local group of singers at each performance. Singing numbers from their own repertoire, hymns and bits of the Boy’s favorite song (Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”), the group acts as part-Greek chorus, part-ghostly presence. It’s not always apparent whether this is the choir that was gunned down or maybe a new formation Claire has assembled in her path to healing. The play loops back on itself constantly, a disorienting malaise it seems Claire might never free herself from. But then, a song.
The Events runs through 8/10 at the Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill. Tickets are free for all, and can be reserved here. (Note: online reservations for some dates are full, but walk-up availability guaranteed for all shows; see policy here.) For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral and multi-stall; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Dusty Somers is a lifelong Seattleite whose love of the arts has resulted in a distressingly large physical media collection. Right about now, he’s probably watching a movie, seeing a play or listening to a record. He has covered theatre for City Arts, The Seattle Times, and NWTheatre.