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A CurtainUp Review
Bikeman: A 9/11 Play

l-R: Irungu Mutu, Robert Cuccioli, Richard Topol (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
On the morning of September 11, 2001, CBS News writer/producer Thomas F. Flynn was outside his Greenwich Village home when the first plane passed overhead. Driven by reporter's instinct, he grabbed his bike and headed towards the Twin Towers. As the horrors of that "Forever September Morning" unfolded, his role morphed from observer to participant when he was trapped in a parking garage by debris from the first tower's collapse.

Flynn made it out alive — or rather, not dead — and later wrote about his experiences as the "Bikeman" (as he was called by an ambulance driver who guided him and a small group of others to safety) in an epic poem. William Brown brought a reading of Bikeman to the stage a few years ago, and it was last performed in March 2013. Now, a new adaptation of the play, adapted by Flynn and Michael Bush and directed by Bush, takes up residence at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Flynn's account of his experience is a powerful union of straightforward memory and poetic reflection. In some ways, it is to 9/11 what Elie Wiesel's Night is for the Holocaust: a first-person impressionistic narrative that gives a vivid sense of what it was like for one man to bear witness to horrific events that he himself survived.

The challenges of bringing such a text to the stage, however, are formidable. It's practically impossible to do the words justice; the performers must constantly walk a nearly indiscernible line between overacting and underemphasizing the subject's weight. With each degree of separation from the source (i.e. audience reading the author's text vs. audience watching actors interpret director's stage adaptation of author's text), the text's power is distorted.

As a result, something about this production of Bikeman seems a bit off. Too much of the staging results in heroic-looking tableaux; the original music by Jonathan Brielle feels awkwardly deployed and occasionally discordant; and a number of moments, including those where time stopped to allow reactions outside of hurried frenzy of the day, come across as rushed.

While a cast of five performs the show, the dialogue primarily comes from Tom (Robert Cuccioli), with the other actors developing the scene around him. Cuccioli's Tom is unflinchingly composed and stoic, which feels true to the character and makes one moment of panic, by contrast, dynamic and wrenching.

When this same level of fortitude is displayed across the rest of the cast (Irungu Mutu, Angela Pierce, Elizbeth Ramos, Richard Topol), it starts to feel overwhelming and risks coming across as disingenuous. Perhaps this reflects the director's decision, Flynn's recollection, or the performers' instincts to guard themselves against the tragedy. Each actor does have moments to exercise his or her range. Pierce, especially, seems present in every moment, morphing from stunned to pragmatic to horrified in a way that feels realistic and sincere.

The scenic design that combines James Noone's set pieces with Darrel Maloney's projections, is a tremendous asset, allowing for realistic and abstracted depictions of the Twin Towers before and after their fall. We see one photographic glimpse of the Towers before anything happens; the graphic images of their destruction are not shown, a wise decision allowing Flynn's words to speak for themselves. The abstracted forms, colors, and movement of scenic elements are tasteful and appropriately evocative.

The stage version of Bikeman may well help people come to terms with their own experiences on 9/11. It could be an ideal way to teach a younger audience about what happened twelve years ago (it's recommended for ages 12 and up). And it's highly admirable that a share of the ticket sales will be donated the 9/11 Memorial. But some, including this reviewer, may find experiencing Flynn's story on paper more profoundly moving, while the play simply can't capture the same emotional intensity.

Bikeman: A 9/11 Play by Thomas F. Flynn
Directed by Michael Bush

with Robert Cuccioli (Tom), Irungu Mutu (Photographer/Policeman), Angela Pierce (Business Woman), Elizbeth Ramos (Neighborhood Woman), and Richard Topol (Ambulance Man)
Scenic Design: James Noone
Costume Design: Karen Ann Ledger
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Sam Kusnetz
Projection Design: Darrel Maloney
Original Music: Jonathan Brielle
Production Manager: Nick Bixby
Production Stage Manager: Jack Gianino
Stage Manager: Marci Skolnick
Running Time: 50 minutes with no intermission
BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street
For tickets: 212-220-1460 or visit; $39—$79
From 1/26/2014; opened 2/18/2014; closing 3/30/14
Varied performance schedule; check website for exact dates and times.
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 2/15/2014 performance
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