By Daniel Skora
It’s the day after 9/11 and the knock on the door of the young woman’s apartment means that her blind date has decided to come calling after all even though the entire country is embroiled in the aftermath of the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. Though Waverly lets in the young man who stands at the door, the date promises to be an awkward one. Waverly’s twin sister had recently moved to New York, and even though she wasn’t expected to be anywhere near the World Trade Center, she hasn’t returned any of her sister’s calls wanting to know if she’s alright. Whether or not the sister turns up safe in light of the recent tragic events forms the tension that runs through this latest offering of the Open Book Theatre. “Recent Tragic Events” also serves as the title of playwright Craig Wright’s dramedy that combines a national event of unparalleled proportions with the story of several Midwesterners who find themselves with a personal stake in the unfolding drama.
Though the events of 9/11 are constantly rattling around the perimeters of the play, the heart of the first act belongs to comedy. Andrew, Waverly’s blind date nicely played here by Richard Payton, is the manager of an airport bookstore and your classic nebbish. Dressed with a tie and a self-conscious smile, and carrying a book just in case the date doesn’t go very well, he will, during the course of the evening, make several attempts to exit the apartment surreptitiously. He and Waverly (Kimberly Alley) actually have something in common. Both share a love of the works of Anthony Trollope, a nineteenth century novelist whose expatiations on the minutia of everyday Victorian life would render today’s lol crowd comatose. But the only thing funny about Andrew is his lack of funniness. That’s where Ron (Joe Sfair), Waverley’s neighbor, comes in. Ron is a musician, your basic know-it-all smart-alecky quipster, and he’s found in Andrew an easy mark for his verbal fabrications. The two become intellectual adversaries, Ron easygoing and self assured, Andrew uptight and socially constricted. Which is good, for it makes the first act progress enjoyably, the laughs interrupted only occasionally by the word that there’s no word from New York. Nancy (Erika Hoveland), Ron’s taciturn bedmate drops by for pizza and along the way everyone learns that Waverly is the grandniece of Joyce Carol Oates and she’s in town and wants to stop by for a quick visit.
Act two becomes as strange as it becomes dramatic. Ms. Oates does indeed show up, but in a most clever and amusing incarnation. Just to be sociable, the four, along with Ms. Oates, decide to play a drinking game. As can be expected, conversation and liquor flow freely. Andrew and Ms. Oates end up having a discussion about the existence of free will, which sounds like it should have great import to the story but somehow gets lost in the din of the drinking game. All the while, any confirmation concerning the whereabouts of Waverley’s sister is long in coming.
Ultimately, “Recent Tragic Events” is more about 9/11 being a marker for time than it is about planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Wright’s script and Open Book’s production do, however, make for an entertaining and rewarding evening of theatre. The show is funny while at the same time being a bit of a nail biter. It abounds with theatrical gimmicky and has interesting characters played by a solid cast. Open Book’s new home in Taylor allows for a more spacious staging area and the one for this current one has everything you’d expect of a professional woman’s apartment.
The show is directed by Topher Alan Payne and produced by Krista Schafer Ewbank. Lighting design is by Harley Miah. Mandy Logsdon is not only the stage manager, but appears in the show as such. Her comments on the proceedings give the show a greater amount of theatricality than is normally afforded a play.
“Recent Tragic Events” runs through November 19th. Tickets can be purchased online via credit card or by mailing a check to Open Book Theatre Company at 1621 West Road, Trenton MI 48183. Further information is available by phone at 1.734.288.7753, via email at email@example.com, or at their website at www.openbooktc.com.