False Memorial

Even in this cynical, jaded, ironic world, there are some sacred calves: you don't laugh at funerals, you don't fart during blowjobs, and you don't make light of Sept. 11.

In fact, when it comes to popular culture, it seems the principal architects—with the exception of Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore and a handful of songs from such people as Steve Earle and Suzanne Vega—have steered clear of in-depth personal or political explorations of Sept. 11.

But not the theater. Even before the ashes had settled and the DNA had been accounted for, New York's smaller theaters were deluged with plays about Sept. 11. Not surprising—one of theater's most ancient virtues remains as vital now as ever: catharsis.

None of those plays have lasted beyond the initial crisis or been produced much outside New York. Except The Guys, a two-person account of the personal fallout of that most public of disasters. Written by Anne Nelson, the play premiered in New York 12 weeks after the event, was embraced by such A-list celebs as Tim Robbins and Sigourney Weaver, and was turned into a film in 2002, immediately enshrining it as The Sept. 11 Play.

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This is its first production in Orange County, courtesy of the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble. While an interesting choice for the company—which is jumping full-bore into producing theater after a nearly two-year hiatus—the play doesn't support its weighty concerns.

Not that it isn't genuinely heartfelt and sincere. It's based on a true story about a New York fire captain struggling with writing eulogies for eight of his fallen men. Unable to accomplish this, he seeks out a journalist to help him write and process what he's feeling.

The Guys definitely succeeds in humanizing the canonized; that's evident in the script and the production. But it's hard to shake the feeling we're supposed to care about these people—and this play—because we're just supposed to.

That could be possible if this play truly served as a memorial to those firefighters who perished. But Nelson's script seems more concerned with convincing us to care about the New Yorkers who survived the attack. We're asked to care about their grief, their anger, and the fact that their sense of place and self is irrevocably shattered because of these attacks.

Uh, no. Anyone who's been to New York before and after Sept. 11 knows the city has triumphantly survived, albeit with a very large hole in its ground as well as its collective heart.

Maybe when The Guys first came out, it served as an important part of New York's healing process, but three years later, it feels like an afterthought. A better script may have captured the sense of desolation and loss that permeated the Big Apple in the days and weeks after Sept. 11 and translated it onto a more universal canvas. The Guys didn't and doesn't.


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