Review: Prologue Theatre's RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS a Wild, Thought-Provoking Ride

By: Jan. 27, 2020
Review:  Prologue Theatre's RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS a Wild, Thought-Provoking Ride

Whenever catastrophe strikes, great or small, our minds suddenly scramble for meaning. We scour it to its very depths, trying to find some scrap of a narrative, some way of seeing the whole thing from start to finish. Was it inevitable? Or could it have been prevented? And if so, when, and how?

The greater the catastrophe, the greater our need for it to make some kind of sense.

Written in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, Craig Wright's Recent Tragic Events is set in a Minneapolis apartment the day after that great tragedy. On the level of stage action, Events offers us basic sit-com fare: a typical, comical, chaotic evening in the life of a single woman whose twin sister went missing in the Big Apple the day before.

The cast in Prologue Theatre's production here, led by the electric Kari Ginsburg and under the solid direction of Jason Tamborini, is stellar; the night has many memorable turns indeed. Ginsburg enters the scene as Waverly, rushing manically from the shower to her front door, in towel and skimpy robe, to meet-guess who?-her blind date for the evening, Andrew. As becomes instantly clear, Andrew's timing could not have been worse; throughout the rest of the show's 2 hours, we see Waverly trying in various ways to cope with the stress of not knowing whether her sister survived the attack on the World Trade Center.

Into this confusion bursts Ron, Waverly's boorish neighbor, who proceeds to help himself to the wine Andrew brought, and he completely hogs the stage. Jonathan Feuer is an absolute stitch as Ron, who is as endearing as he is obnoxious and self-absorbed. He then introduces us to Nancy (the quietly effective Molly Shayna Cohen), whose mute presence is complicated considerably by the fact that she seems to be wearing nothing but an oversized tee-shirt. Meanwhile, over time it becomes clear that Andrew-the charmingly awkward Jacob Yeh-might know more about Waverly's twin sister than she suspects.

The extreme characters, situations, and coincidences Wright amasses here are, let's face it, absurd on their face. It turns out that not only has Andrew met Waverly's sister, he has read all the novels written by her favorite aunt-Joyce Carol Oates. Who, because her flight was grounded nearby, stops by for a visit later that same evening. In the form of a sock puppet, manipulated by Cohen (who says nary a word unless it's the sock talking).

Confused yet? Annoyed, even? Some critics certainly have been; but here's the thing: what makes Events a play worth producing to this day, what makes it such a powerful experience, is that was never just a play about 9-11, or about 'My. Worst. Blind. Date. Ever.' This show is about as far from sit-com romance as you can possibly get, and lacks the mawkish sentimentality that the historical moment required.

Tamborini makes a point of including a quote in the program from 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer on the mystical ways in which our individual narratives often intersect, as if by design. Predestination, chance, natural law, are all braided together in our lives, and at moments of crisis it's natural to seek answers, even when we know there aren't any.

Wright wasn't remotely interested in feeding our appetite for consolation or meaning. Instead he anticipates our needs and, after deliberately toying with them, succeeds in undermining them completely-to the point of demolishing the artifice of the theatre itself. The stage isn't about to explain things to you; in fact the more you look to the theatre for objectivity and closure, the more you get-sock puppets. It's a serious head-game he's playing here, and one that leaves you with an after-show conversation bound to range far wider and deeper than you'd imagine.

Wright sets our head spinning through a series of ruses-which you need to experience fresh, so no spoilers here. And Events ends on a decidedly loose note, with vast potential for what comes next, and why. A good thing that we are anchored by Jonathan Dahm Robertson's picture-perfect scenic design-the toney, open-spaced apartment is quite familiar. And Alison Samantha Johnson's costumes communicate volumes about the characters, with Ginsburg's "date night" outfit as the centerpiece.

Recent Tragic Events, now being staged some 18 years after its premiere, is a piece that has matured beyond its original context. And Prologue Theatre's top-notch production argues convincingly for its endurance on the stage for years to come.

Production Photo: Jacob Yeh (Andrew) and Kari Ginsburg (Waverly). Photo: DJ Corey Photography.

Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.

Recent Tragic Events runs through February 16 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE, Washington, D.C.

For tickets and directions visit: .