Choral Stream

'The Events' at the Guthrie Theater: Local choirs help tell a tragic tale

Actress Lesley Hart with Anoka-Ramsey Community College music and theater students and members of the Edina Community Lutheran Choir in 'The Events'Dan Norman

October 03, 2015

"Columbine, Red Lake, Nickel Mines, Littleton, Sandy Hook, Charleston," writes the Guthrie Theater's artistic director Joseph Haj in a program note for The Events. "The list goes on far longer than it should."

Another name—Roseburg—has now been added to that chilling litany, just as The Events opens on the McGuire Proscenium Stage. The play's subject matter, sadly, continues to be acutely relevant to our lives.

Whereas much American dialogue about mass shootings has come to focus on gun control—whether we need more of it, or less—The Events was inspired by a European tragedy, which is perhaps part of the reason the production takes a more existential perspective on mass shootings.

The question explored by writer David Grieg isn't how perpetrators of these atrocities get their guns, it's how they become who they are—and how the choices they make change who we are.

Essentially a two-person show with choir, The Events unfolds in the aftermath of a fictional mass shooting with some resemblances—including the killer's violent xenophobia—to the 2011 Norway attack in which Anders Breivik killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting spree.

In The Events, the attack takes place at a community choir rehearsal. Adding a special poignance to the production is the fact that director Ramin Gray is enlisting several different local choirs to participate in the Minneapolis performances of the Actors Touring Company show, which premiered in Scotland in 2013 and has since toured internationally.

After we're introduced to "the boy" (Clifford Samuel) and Claire (Lesley Hart), a priest who directs the choir, The Events develops into a non-linear reflection on the attack (discussed, but not enacted on stage) and its aftermath.

Samuel and Hart play the roles of various characters touched by the violence, while the choir—dressed informally, standing or sitting on risers and chairs—essentially play themselves.

The presence of these members of our community (at the Friday night performance I saw, the participants were the Encore ensemble of the Twin Cities Women's Choir) on stage is a constant reminder that the victims of these atrocities are ordinary, unsuspecting people. They could be any of us, or our loved ones.

The music, composed by John Browne and overseen by musical director Joe Bunker, ranges widely—as the repertoire of any community choir might—from hymns to a jaunty Norwegian coffee song. The singing serves as both source music (that is, music that's part of the story) and score, providing an emotional undercurrent to playwright Greig's kaleidoscopic look at an act of unspeakable violence.

Such violence, The Events suggests, is morally unfathomable, yet strangely mundane. The shooter speaks of moments during the crime when he'd come back to himself, almost laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Then, he'd continue killing.

Why, Claire asks him near the end of the play: why did he do it?

"I was angry," he replies simply.

"Plenty of people are angry," she observes.

"I was angry," he repeats, "and I had a gun."