Friday, September 9, 2011

The Arts and 9/11: "The Guys"

From the original production

Last night I attended a performance of Anne Nelson’s beautiful play, The Guys, starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Wopat, benefitting the FDNY Foundation.
A deceptively simple premise based on the playwright’s personal experience, The Guys tells of a meeting between Joan, an editor, and Nick, an FDNY fire captain. Nick lost 8 men on 9/11, and a week later, needs help writing eulogies for the first four services.
The language is real and funny and gut-wrenching, sometimes all at once. Joan gradually draws out stories of each man, as Nick struggles with his grief for his guys, and survivor guilt (he switched shifts with his best friend).
He rails against the hero status each has acquired, arguing that they were just doing “the greatest job in the world.” He hates that they’re being elevated to sainthood when they were just everyday guys.
But little by little, he shares the humanity in each, the “ordinary” in each man who died doing what he loved.
Joan, removed from the events by her Upper West Side life (her father, watching TV in Oklahoma, knew about the attacks before she did), struggles with her own grief and helplessness in those early days. Like millions of others around the country, she wanted to “do” something, no matter how small. But the recovery effort needed ironworkers, not intellectuals. When she was asked by a friend to help Nick, she jumped at the chance.
In describing the effect of 9/11 on New York, she uses the analogy of a pebble dropped in water. “You’re the rock,” she says, and the ripples are waves of grief. The first one, family you lost; then friends, co-workers, the Starbucks barista who “only” lost two people, the guy you had dinner with months before and thought was nice, and so on.
 I remember hearing about the original production of The Guys just a few months after 9/11, and was intrigued by its simplicity. So when I found out I would have a chance to see this production, I was thrilled.
At the reception afterwards, I had a moment to talk to Anne Nelson. When I complimented her on her play, she credited the production. “Yes, but, it was the words, the words were so beautiful,” I insisted.
There are 75 productions of The Guys around the U.S. this week. Find one.

Coming next:
9/10 – 110 Stories
9/11 – Guest post by Damon DiMarco, author of Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11
9/12 – Ground Zero, 10 Years Later
9/13 – The Buddhists and the Brits: how other cultures and faiths commemorate 9/11
9/14 – The New 9/11 Memorial

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