“Entangled” on Mass Shootings and Making Sense of the Universe

Lead Article, Reviews

By Allyce Morrissey
 
“Entangled” is a play of two interwoven monologues. Greta and Bradley don’t know each other, but their stories are connected by a tragedy. Greta (Naomi Lorrain) lost her little girl in a mass shooting at a planetarium. Bradley (James Kautz) is the shooter’s brother. Their monologues alternate throughout the 90‑minute piece. Greta tries to make sense of life without her daughter, while Bradley tries to understand the “why” behind his brother’s act.
 
Greta appears on the news, speaking out about gun control and the media attention paid to mass shooters. Bradley appears alongside photos of his brother, the shooter, and is the only member of his family willing to collect his brother’s corpse. It is this media attention that makes each person “a face you remember, but don’t,” to the other. Bradley writes imaginary letters to the families of his brother’s 47 victims, but sends real letters to Greta, wanting to “feel her anger.” Greta composes responses she never sends – she does not want to hold his guilt alongside her grief.
 
“Entangled,” directed by Kate Moore Heaney, is the final play in a four‑play series called “Ricochet,” which follows a community in the aftermath of a mass shooting. The series is presented by The Amoralists, a New York City‑based artist collective, and “Entangled” is co‑written by the playwrights of the first and second works in the series, Gabriel ason Dean and Charly Evon Simpson. In the billing, there is no separation of credits noted between the two related monologues. But according to a New York Times article on the piece, Mr. Dean wrote for Bradley and Ms. Simpson for Greta, which explains the distinct style of each monologue.
 
Bradley’s monologue, as performed by James Kautz, is verbose, cerebral, and full of adjectives and metaphors. He describes his brother as a “dark puppet of mayhem” and his own tears as “involuntary and robust.” He also occasionally narrates his actions while acting them out: “I scream” (he screams), “I whisper” (he whispers). By contrast, Greta’s monologue is direct. She has no use for flowery language, and yet her straightforward manner of speaking is often far more profound. When Greta is nauseated and unable to keep down food after her daughter’s death, it reminds her of the morning sickness she had throughout her pregnancy. “Why is birth like death and death like birth?” she wonders.
 
Ms. Lorrain’s dexterous and moving performance navigates grief and joy, anger and wonder, and a surprising amount of humor at hairpin turns. She professes her love of toast in the same breath as the cruelty of a parent losing a child, and both feel equally true and important. By comparison, Mr. Kautz’s performance sometimes lacks the same nuance and authenticity. Mr. Kautz often phrases statements as questions, suggesting a perpetual uncertainty in Bradley’s character, which sometimes yields more frustration than sympathy.
 
Part of The Amoralists’ mission statement reads, “Our stories are emotionally charged and character driven, a place where politics and perspectives collide and no side emerges unscathed.” “Entangled” certainly aims to present both sides equally – the relative of a victim, and the relative of a “monster.” Bradley tells of his father’s emotionally distant, hyper‑masculine parenting style, and the damage it likely did to his brother. His story follows the trope of mass shooters being “unseen” social outcasts. But it is hard to criticize a grieving mother and harder to sympathize with a shooter. As Greta points out, many people are not seen or valued in this world, but they are not all picking up guns.
 
“Entangled” also addresses the element of race in mass shootings. Greta and the daughter she lost, Astrid, are black. Bradley and his brother, Little, are white. Greta recalls a magazine series profiling people in America. The reporter chose to start it with a white teenage boy from the Midwest who has been “forgotten” in the recent years of attention paid to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folx. Greta theorizes that young white boys are now shooting these newly seen people “back into our place.” She draws a distinction between being watched and being seen – young black teenagers are watched like criminals as they shop in stores, but not seen for who they are. She demands that Bradley see his brother for who he really was, what he really did, and not as a victim. “Entangled” does not directly address statistics about race in mass shootings, or the media attention paid to mental health in these instances of violence, as compared to others – perhaps because the research surrounding mass shootings is so limited, but perhaps also because of the lack of defined consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting in this country.
 
“Entangled” closed just a few days after the latest mass shooting at a STEM school in Denver, and many things about the play feel all too familiar. The news notifications that hardly register or provoke a response anymore. The offers of “thoughts and prayers.” The calls for gun control reform. The backlash, conspiracy theories, and “hoaxers.” But what is unique and powerful about both monologues is the humanity of each character in the face of a too‑familiar tragedy.
 
Greta is a mother who sometimes wishes her daughter had never been born so she wouldn’t have to know the pain of losing a child. She is a mother who sometimes feels relieved Astrid will never reach the age where kids grow cruel and might have made fun of her name – “Ass‑turd.” She is a woman who stands up to sing at karaoke because, “If I can’t hold you, I might as well sing again.”
 
Bradley is a brother grieving the loss of a loved one whose actions have turned him into a monster. Bradley is a brother who wonders if the funeral director relished the opportunity to drain his dead brother’s evil body of blood. He and his mother open condolence cards, baked goods, hate mail, and – most disturbing of all – fan mail sent to their family. Bradley reckons with his own violent capabilities, and the possibility that he may have been able to prevent them in his brother.
 
The universe, literally and figuratively, runs through the spine of these monologues just as surely as the aftershocks of violence. Before the start of the play, the set features video projections of space while ambient music is heard. It opens with Bradley sharing a dream about death and the infinite universe, where his little brother swallows him whole. Astrid’s name, Greta reveals, means “star,” which, she says, have inherently violent births. The shooting takes place at a planetarium. Darkness, Bradley says, is the origin of light.
 
“Entangled” does not offer many explanations or solutions when it comes to mass shootings. Nor does it sugarcoat with notions of “hope.” A graphic novel illustration by Danica Novgorodoff on the back of the program contains the line, “My mommy says that’s what a constellation is, a community of stars we lump together to try to make sense of the universe.” In the very last moment of the play, Bradley and Greta acknowledge one another’s presence onstage for the first time as they make eye contact on the subway. It is a brief moment of recognition – perhaps of one another’s humanity, of the way we are all inextricably connected in the sometimes violent nature of the universe. And that feels like something on the way to hope.
 
“Entangled” played at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre from April 18‑May 11, 2019.
 
ENTANGLED
Written by Gabriel Jason Dean and Charly Evon Simpson
Performed by Naomi Lorrain and James Kautz
Directed by Kate Moore Heaney
April 18 – May 11, 2019
Photo credit: Travis Emery Hackett
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre
New York City
 
ALLYCE MORRISSEY is a dramaturg based in New York City. She holds an MA in Dramaturgy and Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in English from Villanova University. She also works in entertainment advertising.
 

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