The events of September 11, 2001 in which terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center sent a ripple of emotion through the entire world that resonated with more people than almost any other event that had come before it. Like most people of the time there was a great outpouring from the theatre community who produced a number of plays inspired by that particular event. With an ironic wit that is both amusing and human the brilliantly crafted Recent Tragic Events written by Six Feet Under creator Craig Wright is considered by many to be the most universally timeless.
The absurdly intelligent contemporary comedy is being staged with incredibly talented director Rene Copeland at the helm by The Tennessee Rep at TPAC’s Johnson Theatre. The Recent Tragic Events Cast includes Anita Brumagen, Jenny Littleton, Pete Vann, and David Wilkerson.
The play will be presented Thursday-Saturday January 26-Feb 18. Tickets are on sale at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick St., in Downtown Nashville, at Davis-Kidd Bookstores in Green Hills, and all Ticketmaster outlets. They may also be ordered by phone at 615-255-ARTS or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
Acclaimed local director Rene Copeland talked with O&AN in a recent phone interview about the production, how the events of 9/11 affected her personal life and how those events are explored in Recent Tragic Events.
There are several plays that have presented a number of differing views on the events of 9/11. What is it that attracted you to the work of Craig Wright?
Recent Tragic Events is not so much about 9/11 in a socio-economic political way as it’s about how the event made each individual human being feel. It’s about the response that was felt by this small group of people that you get to know and love through the course of the play. Their experience is felt in a very personal level, but also in a very universal way in that they experience things that we all felt at that time no matter what political or religious leanings we had. They pass the time by talking about these things as they come up. "Do we really have control over our fate? We thought we could. We thought we were able to make things happen the way they should happen in our country and in our lives personally but we could all die tomorrow after all. Who knew?
What is your greatest challenge as a director in presenting a comedy that centers around one of the greatest tragedies of our time?
Well, first of all you have to understand that it’s not necessarily about 9/11 per se; so much as it’s about some of the human foibles that came about in response to 9/11. The way that the brilliant playwright has made this comedic is to make the story more about the context. He frames it in a very specific way. So even though the show is based on a horrible event it is able to be comedic because it’s couched in these absurdist terms where you can see that it’s just an exploration of what’s real and what’s not; what you have control of and what you don’t.
I understand that one of the characters in the play is portrayed by a sock puppet. Tell me about that.
In the first act we are told that one of the character’s great aunts is coming over because she just happened to miss her plane that day and that she just happens to be Joyce Carrol Oates. At the top of the second we learn that the author Joyce Carrol Oates in the play is not really the one that everyone expects, but rather another author who just happens to have the same name and just happens to have written all of the same books that the real Joyce Carrol Oates has and to remind you of this she will be portrayed by a sock puppet.
So during the course of act two there is this great conversation with Joyce Carrol Oates (the sock puppet) about free will and if humans have and real control over their fates and Joyce Carrol Oates asks them "Are you saying you feel like a puppet?"
While it sounds like a very funny piece it also seems to have a very dark tone to it as well. Do you think that your audiences will be able to relate? What do you feel the response from the Nashville community will be?
Yes. I have to admit that I have a fondness for dark wit. I think that it’s a really healthy thing to look at the things that scare us the most with a sense of humor. The author has done a great job of making the audience look at themselves and wonder if they really do have free will or not. I feel confident that the audience will be examining if they are just lucky or if there really is a plan.
It is really such a great piece and I have such faith in the actors that I can’t help but feel people are going to be blown away. I am very optimistic that it will be embraced by the Nashville community.
Almost everyone remembers what they were doing when they found out that the Twin Towers had fallen on 9/11. What were you doing and what do you remember feeling when you found out?
I was still with Mockingbird Theatre then and I was getting ready to go in to the office. I had the Today Show on as I was getting ready like I always did and as it started happening I just stopped what I was doing and sat down and watched. My colleagues and I arranged to have a television brought in to the office and we just sat around and watched it all day. On an interesting personal note, September 11 is also my son’s birthday and he was turning 13 on that day. We ended up having to put off celebrating until the next day because we just wouldn’t have felt right having a party that day. No one wanted to do anything that evening except to stay home and stay glued to CNN. I remember feeling really afraid. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I’m the mother of two sons and I remember thinking "Oh my God! There is a war starting and I’m going to lose my children!" By that evening I was almost hysterical that this was going to kill my children.
How do you feel that your personal experiences surrounding the events of 9/11 inform the direction of Recent Tragic Events?
I used to wake up thinking "What will I do today?" and now I wake up thinking "What will happen today?" The feelings of fear really struck home with me and I feel like I can closely identify with the characters because of that. Those feelings drive me to really play the show honest and true because I think those feelings portrayed in the play were felt by everyone. That makes me very passionate about communicating those feelings through the characters in a truthful way because I think that everybody in the audience will understand. My goal is to make that connection so that we can all share together. Whenever I direct a play I am always trying to fulfill what I feel is the truth that the playwright is trying to communicate. I feel like I’m sort of a servant to that and it was really easy for me to achieve that in this play.