In the summer of 2011 in Norway, Anders Reivik massacred 77 young people at a recreational camp. Among the who, barely escaping death themselves, witnessed teenagers pleading to the relentless killer for their lives was a female vicar and leader of a community choir. The Events, written by Scottish playwright David Greig and set in Scotland, examines the vicar’s frantic quest to find sense or meaning in the event, and to somehow purge herself of the memory and of the guilt of having been spared.

Since the vicar was a choir leader, a choir is an intrinsic part of the play: we’re told that a different local singing group — how remarkable! — performs for each performance of The Events. Among the members of the Stop Shopping Choir that performed when I attended, each singer dressed the way he or she saw fit. In other ways too this multi-racial group conveyed individuality while contributing to the beautiful whole. What a wonderful contrast, I thought, to standardized choir dress — e.g. white shirts and black skirts or pants — that submerges personality in favor of the common artistic whole. That was deeply moving.

Played by a powerful Neve McIntosh, the Vicar here is given the name of Claire. A lovely name. But how does it pertain? Given what she has experienced, there’s no clarity for Claire, no answer, no meaning, no light at the end of the tunnel. What are clear, inescapably so, are her piercing memories of the horror.

Neve McIntosh makes you feel Claire’s psychic anguish through her whole self, voice, expression, and agile body. In choreographic acting, she plays her pain in front of the ever present choir, and sometimes engages directly with individuals among them. As in early Greek tragedy, the chorus conveys communal solidarity: it’s a scrim of constancy and conventionality for the tragic actor’s heightened individual anguish.

Claire takes pride in the multi-racial and multi-ethnic character of her choir, a counterpoint to the xenophobic and archaic tribalism of the killer. The chorus tries to nurture her in her pain but ultimately what Claire has seen and from it what she knows impel her to isolating excess, and she’s alone.

Also recalling early Greek tragedy, there’s a second actor, Clifford Samuel who plays several rolls, “the Boy” representing the killer ( 32 years old in the actual event), a lover, a psychiatrist and others, in a tour de force of shifts of character.

The play is mainly a visionary construction of the world by a woman increasingly alienated from her communal choir and thrust toward madness by an event. But there are scenes that are from the objective world, independent of Claire’s anguished coloration. The shifts can be confusing in a way that siphons off emotional tension. Still, The Events is an exciting, focused and thought-provoking dramatization of a question that hovers in the air around all of us: when one has seen the worst that human beings can do, what meaning is there in “healing”? What hope is there?

The Events plays at New York Theater Workshop in Manhattan’s East Village through March 22, 2015.

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