Brown Coat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street • $10-$15
9/8-11, 8 p.m. • guerillatheatre.com
The gravity of September 11th, 2001, is too big for words. The 343 firefighters, 60 police officers, and eight EMTs, among the 3,000 who perished, left behind countless family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances in their wake. The enormity of this collective void proves to us time and again that we cannot rationalize such terror or lack of humanity on this grand of a scale. Anne Nelson’s 2001 play “The Guys” centers on such an idea, and takes it one step further: “9/11 is too big for us.”
The two-man show was written in a little over a week and opened in December 2001 in Tribeca’s off-off Broadway’s The Flea. With Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray originally leading the helm, the story follows an editor/writer and fire captain who meet under 9/11’s duress—12 days out, to be exact. The captain needs help writing eight eulogies, which he has to give in coming weeks at an unprecedented amount of funerals. “We usually only lose six a year,” Nick says. “We lost more in one day—one hour. I am going to be doing funerals all year.”
Guerilla Theatre debuts “The Guys” in Wilmington for one weekend only, September 8th through 11th, in honor of 10th anniversary of 9/11. Directed by Nick Smith and enacted by Ron Hasson and Holli Saperstein, the show gathered momentum through a Kickstarter campaign to pay for its production costs. Smith raised $500, and even caught the attention of its writer, Nelson, who donated to the cause. Having shown across the nation in more than 60 performances, Smith wanted to bring the show to local stages and “honor those people [and] the memory of what they did that day, and the lives they saved.”
The plot threads in and out of Nick’s and Joan’s own struggles in coping in 9/11’s aftermath. In doing so, it also paints a picture of four men who lost their lives trying to save others. “Ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances,” as Joan coins them. There is Bill, the senior fireman and in-house “food critic,” who guides the newbies and the company through the nooks and crannies of their jobs and New York. There is the young, fresh-faced, 26-year-old Jimmy, who is still on a probation period when he endures his first and last fire on September 11th. There is the leader of the pack, Pat, a dedicated family man and staunch professional, who firemen want to follow into the flames. And there is Barney, the metalsmith whose sense of humor and ingenious handy work leaves a legacy behind through the tools he makes for the company to use forever more.
Hasson and Saperstein have an interesting and awkward connection onstage, something I witnessed during a trial run of the show last week. Yet, it makes the play even more believable, as they endure gaps of silence or reserve their personal stories and feelings in snippets. What evolves, of course, is an alliance, where their comfort levels conjoin and become palpable (a dance scene will provide a needed moment of light in such heavy content). They needed to find each other, even though under “normal” circumstances it never would have happened. They needed someone to express their truths to and how the after effects matter to them.
“Nick stands in for the nobility of all the first responders,” Smith describes of Hasson’s character. “Even knowing that he would have died, you can feel in the script, and see it in Ron’s performance: He wishes he had been there with them that day. Part of it is survivor’s guilt, but the other part is that special quality all first responders share, that willingness to put themselves between danger and the everyday citizen who wouldn’t have a chance otherwise. That, to me, is a real hero.”
Even if someone wasn’t directly affected by loss of life during 9/11, the urgency to be of help, of need, was severe. That’s Saperstein’s role as Joan, something she calls the “crisis of marginality.” Joan states how even surgeons felt useless then, since bodies weren’t found to operate on or save; she asks, how could someone possibly need an editor or a writer. Director Smith is intrigued by such notions, something he clearly thinks others will relate to on a fundamental level, too.
“I remember on September 12th, a professor asked us to pull out a sheet of paper,” he recalls. “[She said], ‘The question I’m most asked by parents at orientation is, ‘Why should my child get an English degree? What’s the purpose?’ Today, I think we can give them an answer.’ I’m drawn in by that need to tell the story so it can be understood, considered and, hopefully, provide the catharsis so necessary after an event like [9/11].”
Without a doubt “The Guys” carries a torch of solemnity throughout, something we should all be reminded of when looking back at the biggest tragedy on American soil. “It’s a question you hear all the time,” Smith explains. “‘Where were you September 11th?’ Those attacks were the most world-altering events of my lifetime. The memories from that day will always be with me, as clear as when they happened.”
Capturing the history of its force is yet to come. Though, we’re a decade out, only time determines its truth of impact. “The Guys” is a staunch reminder that we owe it to the people who died to make their unwilling victimization count toward something more. We especially owe it to the inter-relationships of our society to remember and relive how sticking together got us through it all. “It is said when things are at their worst, that’s when humans are at their best,” Smith says. “I wanted to pay respect to that.”