Coping With Tragedy

Coping With Tragedy (David Levine / June 17, 2014)

The show: "The Events," part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.

What makes it special?: The U.S. premiere of a show that was a hit at last year's Edinburgh Festival.

First impressions: The subject matter of this spare but richly lived-in show by David Greig is one that may have special resonance for Connecticut audiences after the Sandy Hook tragedy. It centers on the aftermath of a mass shooting at a small town's church-choir rehearsal. Its sole survivor is the choir master/reverend Claire (Derbhie Crotty) and we see her trying to come to terms with what happened.

Another actor named simply The Boy (Clifford Samuel) plays many parts, including the young shooter. Representing the community, like a Greek chorus, is literally a chorus: a local Connecticut choir actually. (On the night I saw it, it was the New Haven Chorale. There is a different local choir for each of the performances.)

In following Claire's desperate to search for answers — the reasons for the unreasonable act — we see and we share in her struggle for control, for understanding and for the elusive closure. But this humanist need for comprehending comes loaded with rage, despair, revenge and even a kind of madness of her own. Staged with simplicity, honesty and some distancing dash, director Ramin Gray presents the journey not with sentimentality but with the quiet compassion of song.

How does the choir fit in?: It sets the scene, sometimes interacts with the two protagonists and in its most prominent role, offers and uplifting finale where they sing a song of community with its prominent lyric of "We're all here. We're all in here."

How does the story unfold?: Claire is once again leading a new community choir after the tragedy and clearly she is shaken when a young man enters. Is he another threat? A figment of her imagination? He is mysterious, standing outside the group, but soon he is talking and asking about her faith in God — now at a low point. She confesses she feels as though she has lost her soul.

The boy identifies, who identifies himself as a "tribal warrior," speaks of foreign invaders and of making his mark on the world. "The only means I have are art or violence and I was never any good at drawing," he says chillingly.

But he also takes the role of figures in Claire's mind as she grapples with trying to make sense of the horrific event. If the killer was insane, that would be one answer. If he was pure evil, that would be another. But none of these posits are as satisfying as in her imagination: She confronts the boy's father, the boy's friend, a psychologist, a journalist, and a politician whose extremism may have prompted the boy to act. Her obsession also takes its toll on her relationship with her partner. Finally she talks to the boy himself.

Does she find peace?: She find something close to that with her "one big crazy tribe," as she calls her choir of multi-culturally diverse singers.

And the end effect?: It's a cathartic experience for Claire, and I imagine for others, too. Crotty vividly shows the struggle between the mind and the emotions as a person living and lost in two worlds. Samuel is terrific in conveying the quiet outsider as well as a wide range of other characters.

Who will like it?: Those who welcome the give and take of an intellectual and emotional struggle.

Who won't?: Those who insist on easy answers.

For the kids?: Smart teens may understand the complexities of the play better than some parents. Also it's a learning opportunity.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less: In matters of lost souls, sometimes a song shall guide them.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: I wasn't sure how this work would play in a Connecticut after Sandy Hook. The show is presented with care and sensitivity but also intellectual and sometimes challenging rigor. It's end may not be entirely satisfying but it offers a sense of a separate peace.

The basics: The show contintues at the theater at 1120 Chapel St., in downtown New Haven Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m.; and Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. There is a post-show discussion after every performance. Tickets $35 to $65. Information: http://www.artidea.org..