Claire, a priest and community choir leader, believes she has lost her soul. The cause: a horrific event, dramatized only abstractly in the opening scene of “The Events,” in which she was a lucky survivor of a rampaging killer. The tragedy sets her on a heroine’s journey to try and understand why the shooter, now in prison, did such a thing.
Scottish playwright David Greig was influenced by the 2011 massacre in Norway, when right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people at a summer camp.
The play, which premiered in Edinburgh, takes place nowhere specific in this Shotgun Players production under Susannah Martin’s assured direction.
It rolls out non-linearly with a wonderfully uncompromising Julia McNeal as a fiery and vulnerable Claire, and Caleb Cabrera as not only the youthful shooter but also a clergyperson, a psychotherapist, a politician, Claire’s lesbian lover and other characters that Claire seeks out in her desperate attempt at understanding.
Cabrera is best, and indeed quite powerful, in depicting the troubled self-styled warrior — he’s utterly convincing when he pulls a hoodie over his head and says things like “I don’t hate foreigners, I hate foreigners being here”– but less effective at embodying the others.
This is a story for our time, in which a disaffected boy, unpopular in school, wants to make his mark, protect what he calls his “tribe.” It’s a story that encompasses hot-button issues of race and class and immigration.
Frantically seeking the answer to “Why,” Claire cries, “There isn’t a reason. There has to be another way of explaining . . . beyond reason.”
Her tortured quest to place this killer in a context — to trace the threads that made him who he is — leads her as far back in history as imagining an aboriginal boy standing on a rock watching the very first conquering ships sailing in.
Is the shooter evil or is he a victim of society? “If he’s human, I can connect with him,” Claire asserts.
Greig’s approach is fresh and emotionally involving. His script requires a community choir to appear in every production — a different choir every night — not just singing hymns and other songs (music by John Browne) but participating somewhat, like a Greek chorus.
On opening night, Gallimaufry Chamber Chorus filled the bill quite nicely, although not representing the ethnic diversity that Greig visualized.
A little too long — the tension flags at times — “The Events” feels unnervingly, dangerously, immediate.
Presented by Shotgun Players
Where: Ashby Stage, 101 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 10
Tickets: $25 to $40
Contact: (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org