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A review of Island Theatre's 'Recent Tragic Events'
Brazen script-centric theater ‘at the center of the free universe’ coming to libraries throughout Kitsap this fall
There’s something profound in that this play, a story revolving around the tragic events of 9/11, is still nearly as relevant today as it was during its premiere five years ago.
There’s also something profound about seeing a piece of its nature performed by a local theater troupe in a small room in Kitsap.
Contemporary playwright Craig Wright’s “Recent Tragic Events” is set on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001 — the day after one of the United States’ most tragic events, referred to throughout the play warily and simply as “the thing.” Along with being the day after one of the darkest days in American history, this evening is also, by a cosmic chance, the first date between Waverly, a disciplinarian-ish advertising executive, and Andrew, an unsure, fumbling manager of some bookstore at an airport. A mutual friend had set up a blind date between the two.
Andrew (played by Mark Fredrichs) is knocking at the front door, a free-standing brown door and frame anchoring a minimalist set at the front of a large meeting room in the Bainbridge Public Library. Waverly (played by Jackie O’Brien) is in another room, the bathroom. There are four chairs set in the front of the room, a coffee table on the floor in front of them and a TV on the far side of the “stage.”
The minimalist set, characteristic of Island Theatre that has been putting on script-read shows at the Bainbridge library for more than a decade, is oddly exciting.
Some call them “play readings” but we’re anticipating literature-centric theater, at “the center of the free universe,” as the play’s director Steve Stolee calls the library.
Waverly opens the door and greets Andrew, who is immediately apologetic in his socially awkward style, with a cheap bottle of wine and a Joyce Carol Oates book in his hands, repeatedly offering to leave.
“No, shut up, it’s good,” Waverly says, the blonde bombshell standing at the door in her bathrobe. “It’s good, come in.”
It’s subtly obvious that something is eating at the core of Waverly, possibly something to do with the recent tragedy, but she holds it back, inviting Andrew in while she finishes getting ready. “The thing” isn’t really even talked about. It’s briefed and mentioned here and there, and the “Attack on America” newscast is playing in the background throughout the show, but “the thing,” kind of like the continuous drone of that newscast, is more an ominous undertone to the story of the characters.
Being set on the sofa in the living room of Waverly’s apartment, matched with the awkward tension both of the situation and the blind date, the bombshell and the geeky guy, it all gives the play the air of a TV sitcom. Especially when the eccentric, over-the-top, Kramer-esqe neighbor Ron (Guy Sidora) drops in unannounced.
But the free-thinking, free-speaking, orange shades-wearing neighbor actually evokes some of the best insight of the show, while the author — who is indeed a television writer with editions of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and the creation of ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” under his belt — rips the mindless sitcom stereotype to shreds.
Wright’s use of the stereotype in Act I develops emotional relationships between the characters and the audience, putting play-goers in a ripe state of mind for the “information” (as the crazy neighbor would say), that’s about to be put in their heads.
“It really twists your mind,” Stolee said of the play. “By collecting your attention with these humorous aspects as well as these ‘down home’ sort of things ... he uses this observation and sense of humor to bring us to a place where we can look at how to face the big events in our life, and how we justify, realize, sympathize and embrace the important things that move us forward.”
One of the most brazen things about the play is that the wisdom is delivered at the culmination of a drinking game, through the mouthpiece of a sock puppet on the hand of a girl, who came wearing nothing but an oversized T-shirt (Claire Hosterman)*.
The puppet, we learn from the stage manager, represents a fictional version of the author Joyce Carol Oates, who is completely different from the real Joyce Carol Oates, but just so happens to be a writer who’s library is word for word with that of the real Joyce Carol Oates.
Which is all strangely beside the point — the sock puppet is just another tool for the playwright to toy with your mind. But it also goes to show that what really matters in a good play isn’t always necessarily the stage or the set, the costumes or even so much the actors.
The wisdom is in the literature.
Which is something the Island Theatre — with its 14 years of devotion to straight plays, edgy and pointed material and free intimate theater at the library — seems to have figured out a long time ago.
They’ll be bringing that wisdom on a tour to library branches throughout the county Oct. 2-19, playing the 1950’s American classic “Inherit the Wind” directed by Kate Curruthers.
* Full disclosure: I’m now a huge fan of Claire Hosterman.
THE ISLAND THEATRE, a 14-year-old Bainbridge institution, presents script-centric play readings at the Bainbridge Island library in addition to other performances around the island. In October, they’ll tour the Kitsap Regional Library system with the 1950’s classic “Inherit the Wind.” Info: www.islandtheatre.org.