Highly Recommended **** “Recent Tragic Events” should have been a perfect play. However, playwright Craig Wright chose to employ various hypo-meta-theatrical devices, which where often not a part of, and never essential to, it’s main narrative action. Consequently, the willing suspension of disbelief was marred and discussions about free-will, determinism, and other philosophy that is simultaneously both obscure and cliché, took on a role far greater than they had in the play’s plot, themes, and dialogue, which became distracting and made the play’s two acts feel lopsided.
That said, director Georgette Verdin has done an admirable job mitigating the worst parts of the script, which fall outside the central narrative action of the play, by focusing on what is happening to the characters on stage. In the process, she gracefully balances the humor, tension, and tragedy in Wright’s narrative when five characters find themselves thrust together in a Minneapolis apartment on September 12, 2001 as the result of a blind date, an oblivious neighbor, and a diverted airplane.
The costumes (Noel Hutzinger), lighting (Claire Chrzan) and scenic design (Greg Pinsoneault) are detailed but subtle, much more akin to something that you might see in a movie or television show, than a play. As such, the production’s technical aspects (directed by Lisa Giebler) cause the social status and personalities of the characters to register on a semi-conscious level (the way such things do in life), restoring some of the realism lost through the script’s titled hyper-theatrics.
Likewise, each actor fleshes out his or her character in rich but believable ways (Lapine’s Ron is the only thing that comes close to caricature but he was written that way), helping to bring us back to the bleakness and confusion of that day as the character’s try to make sense of what exactly is happening and what they’ve lost, get in touch with loved ones are, and wonder how their world has and hasn’t changed. These themes are explored mainly through the lives of Waverly (Laura Berner Taylor), an advertising executive and Andrew (Matthew Nerber), an airport bookstore manager, who meet at the former’s apartment for a blind date. But while the audience is highly amused by the antics of Waverly’s oblivious neighbor Ron (Maximill Lapine) whose stops by with a woman, Nancy (Rachel Christianson), “who is a long story, not a girlfriend,” Waverly, and even Andrew, become increasingly distracted by the unexplained disappearance of her twin sister who lives in New York City.
In the Second Act, Joyce Carol Oates (Rachel Christianson)—or what Wright insists is simply a duplicated version of Oates in a world of infinite realities—who happens to be Waverly’s great aunt and Andrew’s literary, crush stops by after her plane is diverted and grounded in Minneapolis. The humorous but intense encounter prompts Andrew into admitting that he may have information about the disappearance of Waverly’s sister.
Although Oates is portrayed as a puppet, Christianson’s ventriloquism is so adroit and believable that I completely forgot that I was watching a puppet and not a live actress portray Oates on stage: Christianson makes the puppet a credible and fully formed famous character who dominated the room during her scene. Nerber and Berner Taylor turn in highly realistic performances. They react to amusement, tension, embarrassment, anger, and grief in real and convincing fashions. Moreover, parallel to the considerable comedy in the show, they have to demonstrate panic, tenderness, secrecy, and devastation, which ultimately brings the comic to a halt and leaves audience with raw and difficult emotions to process as they feel like they have been coddled with acerbic dialogue and hilarious, if sometimes raunchy, humor.
“Recent Tragic Events” is showing in Studio 2 of the Athenaeum Theatre, located at 2936 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago. The play runs through April 10, 2016. Productions are Thursday’s through Saturday’s at 7:30 pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Regular Tickets are $22. Student Tickets are $15 with an ID. Tickets for Seniors (65+) are $12. They can be purchased by calling the box office at 773-935-6875 or by visiting www.interobangtheatre.org
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