Monday, October 19, 2015

Recent Tragic Events at Harlequin

from left: Christian Doyle as Ron, Leah Scofield as Waverly, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe as Nancy and Mark Alford as Andrew. Photos by Scot Whitney.

A comedy that’s more than funny
from left: Christian Doyle as Ron, Leah Scofield as Waverly, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe as Nancy and Mark Alford as Andrew. Photos by Scot Whitney.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 15, 2015

Harlequin Productions’ latest show, Recent Tragic Events, is one of the strangest shows I’ve seen in quite some time. It is billed as a comedy, and there is a lot of humor in it — insanely absurd humor — but it also addresses horrifying events and emotions in an intelligent way, thanks to a fine script by Craig Wright, whose bona fides include being a writer on the HBO series “Six Feet Under.”
This play opened in Olympia less than a week after the recent school shootings in Oregon, and it dawns on me that no matter where or when it is performed, it will be shortly after some recent tragic event.
The strangeness of the play is hinted at before it even starts, because the stage manager is listed in the program as part of the cast instead of the staff, and she gives the curtain speech, which is usually the job of the director. And that curtain speech is  . . . well, you’ve heard the theatrical phrase “breaking the fourth wall”; this play does it in a most singular manner. ’Nuff said about that.
The play takes place in an apartment in Minneapolis on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the day after planes flew into the World Trade Center. Andrew (Mark Alford) arrives to pick up Waverly (Leah Scofield) for a blind date. Waverly is not ready, and she is in a panic, constantly on the phone with her mother and constantly trying to call her sister, because they think her sister might have been in one of the towers when the plane hit. Ron (Christian Doyle) is a downstairs neighbor. He shows up uninvited and bullies his way into turning Andrew’s and Waverly’s date into a stay-at-home party. He goes back downstairs to get his live-in girlfriend, Nancy (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe). From that point on, the evening devolves into a drinking, game playing, talking tragi-comedy with underlying currents of philosophical questions on free will and determinism. Do we make choices or do things just happen to us willy-nilly (like the thing that might or might not have happened to Waverly’s sister).
Everyone in the show is somehow damaged. Waverly is an emotional train wreck, Andrew is a shy and frightened nerd, Ron makes an inappropriate joke out of everything, and Nancy is practically catatonic. Her disheveled hair hides half her face and she’s wearing a T-shirt that mostly covers her panties, and nothing else.
One other strange twist is that Waverly’s great aunt is the writer Joyce Carol Oats, who is played by a sock puppet in the hand of Nancy, who provides a voice for the famous writer but never speaks for herself.
The cast is outstanding. All four of them — plus, let’s not forget the stage manager, Eleise Moore — turn in stellar performances.
Recent Tragic Events is a quirky and little-known play that was never a big hit nationally but probably should have been. As director Scot Whitney pointed out in program notes, it is surprising popular with college and even high school theater departments. In the capable hands of the Whitney’s and their staff and this marvelous cast it is a play that should draw much greater crowds than I saw opening night.

Recent Tragic Events, Thursday through Saturday, 8p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. through Oct. 24, Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, ticket prices vary, call for details, 360-786-0151;

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