Review: ‘The Events’ by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse

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A wrenching agitation pervades the gray clouded confines of The Events, in which a diverse chorus group is slaughtered by a gunman. Claire (Regina Aquino), the church chorus leader, is the sole survivor, and her trauma in the aftermath of the “event” will be the lens through which audiences explore this violent tragedy.

Written by the renowned Irish dramatist David Grieg, “The Events” was first staged in 2013, and is brought for the first time to the District by the Anacostia-based company, Theater Alliance. Directed by Colin Hovde, The Events is a dream-like, restless production staged in a stark, minimalistic setting, except for an upright piano and a mess of bright yellow steel chairs.

Regina Aquino and Josh Adams in The Events, presented by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Regina Aquino and Josh Adams in The Events, presented by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Like being dipped into a survivor’s dark memory banks, this non-linear play is structured in a way that juxtaposes Claire’s solemn, often desperate search for meaning with the communal warmth of a singing choir. These transitions can be jarring and beautiful, heightening Claire’s psychosis and her profound loss; they mirror quite effectively a troubled stream of consciousness that slips in and out of a morbid fixation on the perpetrator, and recalling ever so briefly but potently moments of hope and love.

There are times in this production, however, when this conceit falls off beat, particularly midway through when the chorus sings an on-the-nose rendition of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, interrupted by mini-interviews between Claire and a journalist, a politician, a father, all played by the same actor as the gunman, or “the boy” (Josh Adams). A rapid-fire presentation of Claire’s search for an explanation, a checklist of all the people that might give her a reason why the boy committed this atrocity, ultimately loses some of its gusto with a clunky back and forth into a song that tonally feels off, despite the thematic parallels.

As the boy, Josh Adams delivers a stunning, and at times startlingly soft performance. The decision to have the same actor play these other significant roles in relation to Claire–her interview subjects, but also her partner, and her psychiatrist–is a brilliant way of making manifest Claire’s obsession, the power that the gunman wields over Claire’s state of mind, the type of impact one individual can have on those he damages. Aquino’s Claire starts out hesitantly–there are some odd stilted moments of strained happiness that might be artistic choices beholden to the subjective memory bent of this production–but the performance truly begins to impress midway as Claire crumbles into a frightening mental disarray.

Worth noting is the truly inspired lighting design by William D’Eugenio, who plays with spotlights to carve out bold exchanges and monologues against an empty backdrop, and creates ominous, powerful shadows that at times, offer a secondary performance equally compelling as the corporeal ones on stage.

Regina Aquino and Josh Adams in The Events, presented by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Regina Aquino and Josh Adams in The Events, presented by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The Events is an ambitious production that tackles questions of faith, good and evil, the roots of toxic masculinity, and all the ways in which suffering continues beyond the act of violence itself. Theater Alliance puts on a visually impressive production that will ravage audiences in the moment but leave them contemplative, sober, maybe even hopeful once the curtain drops.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Events, presented by Theater Alliance, plays through October 7, 2018, at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE, Washington, DC 20020. Purchase tickets at the box office, or go online.

Read John Stoltenberg’s Magic Time! column about The Events.

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