General 9-23-2004

Too Recent, Too Tragic: Craig Wright at the Jungle

Jaime Kleiman reviews "Recent Tragic Events" at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S. It runs through Nov. 6.

"Recent Tragic" cast

The Jungle Theater’s production of Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright (native Minnesotan and “Six Feet Under” writer), deals with themes that are as old as humanity, misguidedly layering cosmic speculation about free will and fate onto the too-fresh framework of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The play begins with an introduction by the Stage Manager (Janet Paone), who instructs an audience member to flip a coin to determine the outcome of various moments within the play. (This trite reference to chance theory will be pounded into your noggin throughout the show; don’t worry about giving it too much weight.) Then the play begins. The date is September 12, 2001, in the Minneapolis apartment of Waverly (Janelle Ranek), a woman whose twin sister, Wendy, may or may not have been in one of the Twin Towers on the day of the crash.

Waverly, for some unknown reason, has a blind date tonight. Apparently, it didn’t occur to her to cancel it. So the guy shows up. Then her neighbor, Ron – a spot-on Terry Hempleman – comes over. They order pizza. They watch the news. In the second act, Joyce Carol Oates shows up as a sock puppet – a cute but heavy-handed statement about people who choose (?) to be puppets in their own life, victims of circumstance as opposed to arbiters of truth. They talk about fate and free will and determinism and the terrorist attacks. Waverly’s date reveals some highly coincidental information that may or may not have something to do with Wendy. They drink. They speculate about synergy and “cosmic shit.”

All of this makes for finely attuned banter and complicated characters – Wright has a good ear for dialogue and comedy. But he uses his divinity training too much here, pasting his own agenda onto a national tragedy with mixed results. The ending, for example, is marred by the use of a deus ex machina, and the Oates hand puppet veers toward non sequitur. The “Twins” metaphor (Waverly/Wendy; North Tower/South Tower; the overused phrases “synergy” and “twin moment”) is drawn numerous times, with a patronizing effect.

Not so oddly, this play was received well in Washington, D.C., but was slammed by critics in New York. As a former New Yorker whose father works in the Pentagon, I still harbor volatile emotions regarding that day and the ensuing months of dust, confusion, panic, and compassion. Wright’s play may speak very well to those who weren’t there, but for me, the play’s gimmicks don’t illuminate anything about that day or the nature of freedom, free will, or choice. He manipulates 9/11 – and his audience – with melodramatic histrionics that are equal parts interesting and insulting. Yet, by turning 9/11 into a symbol, he detracts from the very real, recent tragic event – one that won’t go away as easily as his stage directions would have you believe.

Call 612-822-7063 for tickets.