Julia McNeal as Claire in The Events by Shotgun Players. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

The aftermath of a horrifying mass shooting is not the cheeriest subject for the theater, although these days, it is unfortunately a necessary one.

The Events, written by David Grieg in response to the shocking shooting by a right-wing extremist in Norway in 2011, is a 90-minute exploration of a survivor’s response to such an attack. Grieg’s tough and tender portrayal of Claire (outstanding Julia McNeal), the religious leader of a community choir who lived through an assault, explores how a victim may come to terms with its psychological repercussions. Although the attack has occurred before the drama begins, its effects are felt throughout the presentation.

Highlighting The Events are two superb performances by Julia McNeal as Claire, and Caleb Cabrera, as the Boy, although Cabrera plays many roles, including the Boy-shooter, Claire’s partner, a schoolmate of the shooter’s and a psychologist. Julia McNeal seems to embody the character of Claire, a gay women who embraced multiculturalism and acceptance. As a result of the shooting, however, she channels through differing levels of sleeplessness, rage, obsession, and revenge and retribution fantasies, before she finds her way again at the play’s conclusion.

Caleb Cabrera, terrific as the Boy and the other roles, is intense when he needs to be, yet at other times, becomes peculiarly bland, particularly when, as the Boy, he attempts to explain why he acted as he did. Cabrera demonstrates the Boy’s restless physicality as he climbs gracefully upon the theater’s ledges.

Caleb Cabrera as The Boy in The Events by Shotgun Players. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Also playing a leading role in The Events is the community chorus. Each evening, a different local choir appears on stage, and functions as Claire’s community chorus as well as a traditional Greek chorus. Talented director Susannah Martin (Caught) commented: “They are Claire’s choir. But they also act as her conscience, the Greek Chorus, and, most importantly, the community in which we live; the community that comes together each night in a shared space to talk, to wonder, to rage, to grieve, to commune and, of course to sing.”

I had feared that having a local choir perform would be hokey, a device simply inserted into the play that would not be an integral part of the experience. But I was wrong. Playwright Grieg originally added the choir early in his thinking after listening to one at a local suburban school where he had stopped to pick up his dramaturge’s mother. He said in an interview, “I had this feeling that I was just bathing in restorative humanity.” And the choir does add a compassionate touch profoundly needed in this performance.

Although there are nights that I might wish to be entertained by a Noel Coward play, rather than be churned by the likes of The Events, it is a provocative, forceful and ultimately humanitarian two-person tour de force that should be seen for its fine acting, taut direction and vital message.

The Events is playing at the Ashby Stage through June 4. For information, extended performance dates and tickets visit Shotgun Players online.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...