David Grieg Exposes Our Innermost Fears
by Robert M. Gardner
Caleb Cabrera (The Boy) is a wild force of nature. A lithe, seething, multi-faceted actor, Cabrera moves as easily across the stage as he does from character to character. The play opens with the Boy speaking from his perch off-stage as an innocent aborigine, speaking to an unseen trio of ships full of convicts. The scene changes when he enters and engages the vicar, Claire (the dynamic Julia McNeal) and the Choir (the fabulous Gallimaufry Chamber Chorus).
Claire welcomes “The Boy” to join the Choir, without sensing the danger in him. We sense the Boy’s complexity, feeling sympathy for him and fear of his troubled soul.
On the bare stage, gifted director Susannah Martin uses lights to change mood and setting. We are forced to adjust constantly to the two actors’ rapid changes of character, leaving us in doubt about which terrible “Event” they are reliving, or which characters they are embodying. “The Events” is a collage of hints, never explicitly tied down to one place or time. When The Boy says, “Faith is easy, Events test us,” we feel a swelling of unease about what we are about to see. Playwright David Grieg draws us into the web, and like Claire, we want to help the needy Boy.
When “The Boy” states: “The only means I have are art and violence—and I was never any good at drawing,” we are drawn into his hopelessness. The scene shifts from the church and choir to the 2011 Norwegian massacre where 77 people, mostly children, were shot down by a deranged gunman on the island of Stamvark.
Claire asks, “Why?” but The Boy cannot answer. Claire gives one idea of what might have created the rampage when she describes how early Vikings became “berserkers” by fasting and ingesting the mushroom Amanita Mascara, soaked in reindeer urine. Events shock her as she seeks answers for each senseless act. Consumed by multiple violent events, Claire begins to question her faith.
The Choir provides counterpoint: their songs balance the violence of the dialogue. The Gallimaufry Chamber Chorus sings in one performance, because Grieg has stipulated a different local chorus for each night. Since the play is new to them and us, we scrutinize the Chorus’ reactions, too. Our mutual revulsion at the violent events creates the confusion we all feel at these random eruptions.
Cabrera and McNeal offer powerful performances and bring meaning to Grieg’s words through dance and strong emotion. Cabrera exhibits a beautiful suppleness and evokes awe, like a barely contained beast. McNeal brings a wide range of emotions as the threatened victim, the compassionate vicar to Cabrera’s avenging angel. When they turn to the audience, we feel threatened, like the victims at Stamvark.
Claire continues to seek the answers to why the violent events occur. The play never focuses for long on any particular event, although it returns to each, always leaving us wondering. In total, “The Events” is thought provoking and disturbing, asking questions we need to probe—in these troubling times. Shotgun Players and Founding Artistic Director Patrick Dooley score another hit with their must see production of “The Events.” David Grieg leads us to ponder the nature of violence and revenge.
“The Events” by David Grieg, directed by Susannah Martin at Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, Berkeley, California, plays through Sunday, May 28, 2017. Info: shotgunplayers.org
Cast: Caleb Cabrera and Julia McNeal.
Chorus: Gallimaufry Chamber Chorus (a new local Chorus at each performance).