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Recent Tragic Events fitfully amusing
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Recent Tragic Events fitfully amusing

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Recent Tragic Events
Odd Duck Theater
Through April 4


Recent Tragic Events is a "big concept" play by Craig Wright. Wright's play Orange Flower Water was performed last year by New Century Theatre Company with good results, and he has written for the HBO drama Six Feet Under. You might consider RTE an experiment. The "big question" involved is, "Do humans have free will, or are we predestined to follow a script?"

At the beginning of the play, the stage manager has an audience member toss a coin and the audience is told that what happens in the play depends on the toss and is emphasized by a tone which sounds throughout the first act (but is that choice or predestination?). Yet at the beginning of the second act, the stage manager takes it back and says that everything, including the stage manager's speech, is scripted. Nothing changed at all. Wright emphasizes his point by having a character show up in the second act as a hand puppet who says "she" thinks humans have free will.

Some of RTE is very amusing, based on a man and woman having a blind date. Those kinds of getting-to-know-you scenarios can be fun to watch. Jennifer Hamblin as Waverly and Ryan Sanders as Andrew are quirky characters who bumble through their first meeting in an awkwardly funny way. They are interrupted by neighbor Ron (Jack Hamblin), a new-agey guitarist, and his guest, Nancy (Kim Fitzharris), who also operates the hand puppet.

The blind date is on a very unfortunate day: September 12, 2001. It's the day after the towers fell, and even though they are in Minneapolis, Waverly is trying to get in touch with her twin sister in New York City. Sister Wendy had no need to be in the towers, Waverly and her mother believe, but they can't get hold of her due to phone problems and they are worried. So, Andrew meets Waverly under even more difficult circumstances than usual. But there is something compelling about Waverly to Andrew, so he sticks with it.

Another weird coincidence is that the prolific author, Joyce Carol Oates, is Waverly's aunt. We're told later that it's a fictitious Joyce Carol Oates who surrealistically has written just as many books as the real one, and they are word-for-word the same. Andrew is a huge fan of Oates, and Oates seems destined to arrive for an unexpected visit. Then this erudite, worldly writer becomes the hand puppet who believes in free will.

The cast does nice work as the small ensemble, with Jennifer Hamblin making a sympathetic central figure, although she seems a tad too whiny sometimes. The pacing was halting, but may certainly improve during the run. If you like to think about "real" philosophical issues, you will enjoy yourself. It won't answer the question, but it's probably one of those questions that we ask all the time and never expect a real answer. For more information, go to www.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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