Harlequin Productions’ latest offering is, to put it bluntly, a comedy about Sept. 11, 2001.
The play — “Recent Tragic Events” by Craig Wright — is about a blind date on Sept. 12.
In the play, which opens Thursday, Andrew comes to Waverly’s Minneapolis apartment to pick her up, but they end up staying in. They talk with a neighbor and his girlfriend; get a visit from Waverly’s aunt, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates; and discover that they’re connected by some remarkable coincidences.
Oates is portrayed, as the script specifies, not by an actress but by a sock puppet.
The very idea of a comedy about 9/11 — let alone one with a sock puppet — sounds more than a little outrageous. And the play is that, but in a way that thoroughly enchants director Scot Whitney.
“It’s an astonishing play,” he said. “It has some crazy theatrical devices that are not just there to be crazy, but to add layers to the discussion that takes place concerning fate versus free will.”
And yes, the puppet does have something to do with it.
“It is significant … that it is a puppet who makes the play's most articulate argument for free will,” Ben Brantley wrote in a New York Times review of a 2003 production.
Some critics have compared the play to a sitcom, citing the use of conventions such as the blind date where everything goes wrong or the neighbor who just won’t stay in his own apartment.
“It is absolutely possible to play this like a sitcom,” Whitney said. “If you play it for laughs and that’s all you’re interested in, then that’s all you get.
“This has plenty of laughs, and it’s very funny, but it’s not played for laughs,” he said. “It’s deadly serious. It has kind of a mythic, heroic story at its heart.”
Indeed, audiences might have seen 100 or 1,000 blind dates, but how many took place in a world that felt completely different than it had two days before?
“It feels like a weird dream,” Andrew (Harlequin regular Mark Alford) says shortly after arriving at Waverly’s apartment. “I was just in New York, like, two weeks ago.”
Waverly (Leah Scofield, who made her Harlequin debut last year in “The Stardust Christmas Commotion”) is focused not on her date or her neighbor or her aunt, but the fact that her twin sister lives in New York City and has not been heard from since the blast. Everything is different in light of the recent tragic events.
And although 14 years have passed since the attacks, everything is still different, said Whitney, who runs Harlequin with wife Linda Whitney.
“I think it’s safe to say it transformed every life in this country,” he said. “Everyone was damaged by it. And we haven’t recovered.
“That tragedy still resonates in a terrible way in our lives, and this play is just a beautiful balm for that tragedy.”
That, he said, explains why he is directing the 2003 play so many years later.
He first came across the script in 2005, and even then he thought it was too late to do a play about 9/11.
But the script just wouldn’t let him go. Every winter, when he reads scripts in preparation for choosing the next year’s season, Whitney found himself re-reading “Recent Tragic Events.”
“Every time, I’ve loved it more and more,” he said. “I thought, ‘If only I’d found it earlier.’
“Last December, I read it a couple of times, and I thought, this is as important now as it was then, possibly even more so, and I’m going to do it.”
RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS
What: Harlequin Productions presents a comedy about Sept. 11, 2001, written by Emmy-nominated TV writer Craig Wright.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Oct. 3, plus Oct. 7-10, 15-17 and 22-24, with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday, Oct. 11 and 18.
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $32, $29 for military and seniors, $20 for students and those 24 and youner 25. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the Oct. 7 performance, pay what you can.
Information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org.