Arts theater review

In the wake of calamity

‘Ripe Frenzy’ rips back the curtains on gun violence to show a bitter-sweet truth

8517 ripe frenzy
'Ripe Frenzy' stars Veronika Duerr, Stacy Fischer, Samantha Richert (left to right).
Photo Credit: Kalman Zabarsky

Ripe Frenzy
Written by Jennifer Barclay
Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
Studio ONE | Boston University

How do you recover in the wake of tragedy? How do you even start to parse through all the scattered thoughts in your mind? These are the questions that Ripe Frenzy hopes to answer. A collaboration between New Repertory Theatre and Boston Center for American Performance, this production sees the town historian, Zoe (Veronika Duerr), trying to make sense of everything that happened leading up to Tavistown’s production of Our Town.

As an actress, Duerr holds so much emotion in each of her motions. From how she solemnly looks away to when she starts to talk about her son to how giddy she gets when she talks about the town, Duerr owns her part. However, there’s something dark lurking underneath the surface of the play. Sudden clips of a hallway, characters talking about the recent shooting in Michigan, or Zoe’s reluctance to actually talk about opening night, these firmly gave the production a tone that is reminiscent of a slasher film. All the while, I couldn’t help but worry for them. “Something’s going to happen.”

Who would have known what would come to pass? In the span of a few minutes, the lives of everyone in Tavistown invert. Zoe looks up, horrified, at the screen behind her to see her son recording something through his GoPro. Unfazed, she blankly stares as hands slowly lift the lid of a box to pick up an assault rifle.

This is where Ripe Frenzy asks us to accept a bitter truth: that perhaps there is no simple solution to school shootings. Director O’Leary puts it best, “The satisfactory answers never come, and instead we rely on structures to sustain us in the face of chaos: religion, family, community, or even just a simple embrace of the capriciousness of life.” Whatever hesitation the play had in showing its hands is gone now as Zoe mournfully weeps over the loss of innocent lives, her son’s included.

At its highest moments of Act 1, Ripe Frenzy does a splendid job introducing its characters and what brings them all together. The character development is subtle but does the job. In its weakest moments, the production drags on for longer than necessary. What was supposed to be a reflective outing into the woods becomes a clichéd girls’ night out that serves more as an obvious platform for political issues.

Though, the technical aspect of the show makes up for any deficiencies in the plot. In an interview with the playwright herself, Jennifer Barclay, she reveals the idea of “mediaturgy,” which looks at the dramatic arc of the media in the play. Expertly pulled off, the play strikes a delightful balance between amazing technical feats with projection and genuinely thought-provoking storytelling.

In the end, Barclay tells a story of humans. There are some plays that ask you to accept its conceit, to follow its fancies. This one demands that you shine a light on what our society obscures. Brave and political is how I would describe the performance. This is truly one that reflects not only the best of theater but also the pain in our own hearts, the kind that lingers long after one bad day.