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THEATER REVIEW

Keeping a date with tragedy

July 21, 2006|Charlotte Stoudt | Special to The Times

Everyone remembers whom they were with -- or wished to be with -- on Sept. 11, 2001. In every sense, the day revealed those we wanted close to us, and those who were terrifyingly closer than we'd thought.

Playwright and "Lost" staffer Craig Wright locates his 9/11 parable, "Recent Tragic Events," with a dark and hopeful little joke: a blind date in Minneapolis on Sept. 12, 2001. Andrew (Nathan Brooks Burgess), an airport bookstore manager, has been set up with Waverly (Dawn Burgess), who does something meaningless in advertising but loves Trollope. He arrives at her apartment to find she's very pretty and very scared -- her twin sister, Wendy, who lives in New York, has yet to check in.

The date turns ever more awkwardly on its head: Waverly's freaky musician neighbor, Ron (the engaging Drake Simpson), shows up and makes himself at home, trailing a mute, disheveled bedmate (Tara Orr). A slightly desperate camaraderie develops as the four wait for the phone to ring with reassuring news.

On Jeff McLaughlin's set of Waverly's apartment -- call it middling IKEA -- director Stuart Rogers deftly choreographs his Theatre Tribe ensemble's interactions, creating a fluid sense of the lived moment. The play's surface is all chatter and nerves: Waverly compulsively insisting "it's all good," stoner comedy from Ron, and philosophizing courtesy of Joyce Carol Oates, Waverly's great-aunt, who shows up in the form of a sock puppet (forgivable whimsy -- this is, after all, a play about free will and destiny).

At first "Events" feels sitcom thin, dramatically inert; then you realize the play is really happening inside Andrew. In a heartbreaking performance by Brooks Burgess, Andrew turns out to be an unwitting postmodern Ancient Mariner, carrying a terrible story he didn't know mattered until meeting Waverly. In this odd romantic tragicomedy, Wright uses 9/11 to insist that even an act of terrorism, no matter how horrifying, doesn't let anyone off the hook.

Like the song says, the fundamental things apply: Andrew will have to take responsibility for changing Waverly's life, however inadvertently, however painfully. And for Wright, that looks a lot like true love.

*

'Recent Tragic Events'

Where: Theatre Tribe Studio Theatre, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

Ends: July 22

Price: $15 to $20

Contact: (866) 811-4111

Running time: 2 hours

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