The Guys—a compelling memory of 9/11

New American Theater opens its 33rd season with a memorial to the survivors and those lost in the tragedy of September 11. Playwright Anne Nelson, a journalist whose reporting of the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Chile won her national recognition, writes of her personal experience working with a New York fire captain to write eulogies for his men.

Karen Holbert is Joan, the character based on Nelson herself. She lives in New York, grieving for others’ loss and her own feelings of helplessness. Josh Burton plays Nick, the fire captain who was not on duty the day his men died. Coming to Joan for guidance, he is incapable of expressing his grief. As a reporter, Joan questions and probes, discovering a depth of feeling unrealized by the captain.

The gripping dialogue between the two actors and Holbert’s monologues keep us completely focused. Holbert and Burton give performances worthy of two professionals at the acme of their careers. New Artistic Director Tony Vezner has chosen wisely for his first production at NAT. The Guys is a first-rate drama, and its two-person cast plays to the intellectuality of a sophisticated theater audience.

Recently, plays based on reality have won high praise. The Exonerated, staged last February at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago, examined the lives of 40 victims of a flawed justice system. Seated on stools on a stark stage, 10 actors played multiple roles. Sentenced to death, their convictions were later overturned. Currently playing at the Bleecker Theatre in New York is Guantanomo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. Written by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo, it is based on interviews with detainees, letters, transcripts of political speeches and lawyers’ briefs.

Drama is not always created out of the imagination of the playwright. Since the time of William Shakespeare, history and contemporary events have become the basis for the finest theater. The Guys represents that genre, playing through Oct. 24 at NAT. Tickets are available by calling (815) 964-4911.

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