The Events, about the aftermath of a mass shooting in Scotland, opened Friday evening in the wake of another massacre at an American school. That might have been eerie, except that such shootings happen with alarming regularity these days.
Inspired by the rampage that killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, The Events strips away politics and attempts to answer a simple question: What makes someone do such horrific things?
The Actors Touring Company production playing at the Guthrie Theater centers on a pair of tremendous performances via David Greig's graceful script. In a nameless Scottish village, a young man enters a community choir rehearsal and proceeds to shoot everyone he sees.
Claire, a priest and the choir director, lives through it. Wracked by survivor's guilt, she launches a quest to understand why "The Boy" acted the way he did. Was it his absent parents? His love of Call of Duty? His fascination with Vikings and berserker warriors? The extreme right-wing politics he followed? Or is it because, to quote Bruce Springsteen, "there's just a meanness in this world"?
That last idea — that evil just exists — is out of step with 21st-century thinking, but Claire begins to wonder if that's the answer. This thinking takes her into deep despair, and leads to the play's central moment: a confrontation between killer and survivor, with the killer's life hanging in the balance.
Greig offers us no easy answers. Claire's desire for revenge and justice are understandable, but we also expect mercy from a woman of God. These contradictions fuel Leslie Hart's performance, since Claire is the picture of liberal, modern clergy.
Hart wears her confusion, guilt, and loss of faith on the surface. She grabs our hands from the opening moments and drags us through Claire's hell in a performance that doesn't allow you to ever look away.
Clifford Samuel has a more difficult task. He plays a bevy of characters, including the murderer. In a brilliant bit of casting, the white supremacist/berserker is played by a black actor. From the beginning, it's difficult to make any assumptions about the man behind the gun.
Samuel builds The Boy like so many others: isolated, lost, and searching for a meaning. His heart is tight and closed. If we go in too deep, we may not like what we see in ourselves.
During its run, the play will be filled with a rotating cast of guest choirs, which do more than act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action. On opening night, it was Encore, a small ensemble of the Twin Cities Women's Choir, providing a pure emotional uplift amid the spiritual horrors.
It's the kind of uplift The Boy and others try to erase with every gunshot and bomb blast. But they have yet to kill it.
IF YOU GO:
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
Through November 1