Talking Through 'That Day'
Two plays try to express what happened to us on September 11
As the 11th day of the month inches closer on the calendar, a certain apprehension naturally fills the air. We start to think about That Day. This week, three years will have passed since the hijacking of four U.S. airliners that launched one of the darkest, most wrenching days in our country's history. Finding a perspective on 9/11 is still difficult, but a number of playwrights have tried, and this coming week brings two of their efforts to local stages.
The Guys has the distinction of being one of the very first plays written about 9/11. Only about six weeks had transpired when Anne Nelson dashed off this story of a New York City fire captain who seeks help from a writer to compose eulogies for eight of his men killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Nelson was not a playwright her day job was the director of the international programs for the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University but when she described her experience to Jim Simpson, artistic director of the Flea, an experimental theatre located seven blocks from Ground Zero, and he asked her if she could turn it into a play, she did. The result, penned in just eight days, was produced at the theatre that December, starring Simpson's wife Sigourney Weaver and her friend Bill Murray. Austin's first view of this deeply personal response to 9/11 comes via Tim Robbins' Los Angeles-based theatre company, Actors' Gang. The production kicks off a new season of professional performing arts events at St. Stephen's Episcopal School.
Omnium Gatherum is also set in the weeks following September 11, but aside from that, this play by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros couldn't be more different from The Guys. Set during a dinner party thrown by a fastidious hostess who calls to mind a recently deposed empress of home decor, it casts a satirical eye on the range of views regarding that event, as well as a host of other contemporary issues from globalization and media conglomerates to poverty and race. They're discussed by guests who play off specific political types the vegan feminist, the African-American minister and a few specific individuals, including technothriller writer Tom Clancy, British journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchens, and the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, plus one guest who admits to being dead which throws open the question: Just where in hell is this dinner party taking place? With its flourishes of the fantastic, intense and pointed political discussions, and sometimes shocking surprises, Omnium Gatherum was the breakout hit of the 2003 Humana Festival of New American Plays. While a follow-up New York run was not as well received, the play is showing up all across the country, and Dave Steakley brings it to Zach hot on the heels of House Arrest as the second jab of his one-two punch of campaign season theatre. The production stars Janelle Buchanan, Harvey Guion, Helen Merino, Carla Nickerson, Erik Parillo, Brian Coughlin, Tej Paranjpe, and Fajer Al-Kaisi.
The Guys will be performed Sept. 17-18, Friday-Saturday, at the Helm Fine Arts Center at St. Stephen's, 2900 Bunny Run. For more information, call 327-1213 or visit www.sstx.org.
Omnium Gatherum runs Sept. 16-Oct. 24 at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center Whisenhunt Arena Stage. For more information, call 476-0541 or visit www.zachscott.com.