POSTED ON NOVEMBER 9, 2011:
Bringing It Home
A personal experience on a national scale
Most plays that open in New York follow a circuitous path from pen to stage. Sometimes it takes years to write the play, ages to convince someone to produce it, and then there's the whole will-they-won't-they-show-up thing familiar to almost anyone in the performing arts.
The Guys, produced by Tulsa troupe Theatre Pops, did not follow such a path. Playwright Anne Nelson wrote the show in nine days, and it opened less than a year after the events of its subject matter: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The show tells the relatively true story of Nick (portrayed in this production by Jeremy Geiger), a New York City fire captain who lost most of his company when the towers came down, and Joan (Annette Rosenheck), an editor he has enlisted for help.
Following the loss of the firefighters, Nick must deliver eulogies for the eight fallen heroes. Not being a writer, and having no idea how to come up with eight different homages, he connects with Joan, herself dealing with the pain, shock and confusion that gripped the entire world in the days, weeks and months after those horrific events. The two talk over the course of the play, and we learn about the fallen, about the characters, and hopefully, about ourselves.
"I think it's about healing," said Natalie Skalla, head of Theatre Pops' council. "I feel like they're so lost and this character Joan doesn't think there's anything she can do as a New Yorker to help. And then this project that she kind of falls into allows her to help, and in a way helps herself heal."
While Nick's need for healing is glaringly obvious, Joan is reeling from the attacks herself, perhaps in a way that is more identifiable for most of us in middle America.
"The entire city of New York was just in shock," Skalla said, pointing to Joan's opening monologue. "She's talking about seeing it and how it doesn't seem real until someone who doesn't live in New York calls her to tell her what happened."
However, Geiger pointed to the fact that there was enough distance from the attacks that many Tulsans without direct relationships with victims were unable to do much other than feel sad and upset.
"But seeing these two people onstage hashing through this hour and a half of their life really brings the experience of that to a more personal level," he said. "For me, I've realized, like I always do, that people are people and we all go through things. We have experience and emotion and heartbreak and happiness, and that's what it's really all about."
Geiger also explored several other thematic ideas about the play -- "It's about celebrating memories, moving on, of course loss is a theme. And sacrifice," he said -- but loss seems to be the permeating factor, especially for him.
"It's actually not as hard as I thought it would be to sync up with Nick's emotions. I lost a friend in August, and that's still a fresh wound," he said. "Dealing with that lost is so parallel to a lot of Nick's grief and sorrow. We're kind of walking hand-in-hand through it."
While The Guys might be providing Geiger with some solace, nothing worth doing is easy.
"It has been difficult, but not in the way of trying to get to places emotionally. I'm actually having to pull back a lot because the loss is so palpable in my own experience right now. I have to remind myself that I'm playing a different person and it's not me up there," he said. "It's been very helpful to me in processing my own grief. It's been very therapeutic."
It hasn't been easy, though he did enjoy the rehearsal process -- one not fraught with the usual strict rehearsal schedules and regimented use of each day's rehearsal time.
"We've been very free form. We haven't been slaves to a schedule. We've come in each evening and worked on what we needed to work on. We can shift our focus to different moments in the play. It's been very easy," he said. Geiger went on to heap praise upon director Randy Whalen.
"The way Randy works is fantastic. He wasn't overly laden with pre-conceived notions of what the play had to be. He's open to what the play is and what it's become as we've breathed life into the characters. He just let the words lead us where we need to be," he said.
Where it leads might be an intense experience, but Skalla feels it's one we all need to have.
"I know it's not the most uplifting material, but I think that people would really be doing a disservice to themselves if they don't come see this. It's heavy, but it's such a nice look at how one person can help another person heal," she said. "They both end up helping each other heal, even though neither of them knows it."
Art imitating life? Vice versa? See for yourself.
The Guys opens Nov. 10 at the Performing Arts Center at 8pm. Subsequent shows at the PAC are Nov. 12 at 2pm and 8pm, and again Nov. 13 at 2pm. Friday's 8pm performance at Joe Momma's is free for first responders.
"Joe Momma's has very generously offered their back room for us and will have pizza for the first responders, as well," Skalla said. "Rather than have a show on Veterans' Day, we're offering this stripped-down version," though the play will be performed in its entirety. "There won't be lights or anything like we have at the PAC because it's a restaurant," she said, but the show, she feels, will speak on its own.
Tickets to the PAC shows are available at the PAC box office, online at myticketoffice.com, or by phone at 918-592-7111. Information on the performance at Joe Momma's can be found via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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