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A CurtainUp Review
The Guys

Nick and I weren't supposed to meet. You couldn't create another sequence for his life that leads to me. Or for my life that leads to him. After September 11th, all over the city, people jumped tracks.
--- Joan, in one of the monologues, interspersed with the main event of the play, her helping Nick to compose eulogies for eight fallen firemen.
The Guys - Los Angeles
Editor's Note: As is clear from the posting in this box, The Guys is by no means a New York only story.

The 9/11 tragedy affected many business and arts enterprises in its immediate vicinity. The Flea Theatre was one such organization and The Guys by Anne Nelson the theater's direct response to the tragedy. It became a surprise hit, with rotating casts keeping it one of the hottest little shows in downtown New York.

Now Tim Robbins celebrates the 20th Anniversary year of his Actors Gang Theatre ( 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Ph: (323) 465-0566). with the Los Angeles premiere of the play and it's clear that Anne Nelson's play is not for New Yorkers only. People lined up around the block three hours before curtain time in sizzling heat for the first pay-what-you-can preview.

They came to see Robbins and co-star Helen Hunt in Nelson's story of her work with a fire captain on eulogies for eight of his men caught in the collapse of the twin towers. They left wordless and in silence.

That's not only an elegy of its own and a tribute to Robbins' portrait of a man of action groping to the ends of himself for words and pictures he didn't know were there and the way Hunt's grave intelligent beauty is highlighted by the ways she finds to help him get there.

It's also inspired by the skill, depth and artistry of Nelson's writing Robbins' Nick, arriving at Joan's apartment, is still traumatized. His voice is so low he's barely audible. There are the moments of humor that exist in any wake, when we remember something about the departed that made us laugh. Robbins screws his face up in glee, looking remarkably like Archie Bunker. His final eulogy in uniform gives the play's finale the dignity, respect and sense of identity that grave the firemen indelibly in our memories.

Robert Egan directs this staged reading with vivid sensitivity.This is a play that has an aura beyond 9/11, wherever people deal with human loss and unbelievable devastation. What has been an end for so many is, hopefully, a beginning for a gifted new playwright. For more details see the review of the show in New York below. Hunt and Robbins perform July 10-28, 2002; as in New York, the cast will then change every three weeks for an indefinite run. Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock July 12.

---the original review at the Flea by Elyse Sommer

Anne Nelson's The Guys was written in just nine days. While born out of a horrendous event, it did not follow a fledgling play's usual torturous path. It opened at Tribeca's off-off-Broadway's The Flea, almost immediately. What's more, it had a pair of high profile actors, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray, playing its two characters -- Joan, a writer/editor and Nick, a fireman struggling with the daunting prospect of composing eulogies for eight of the men lost in the flames of the twin tower collapse.

Ms. Nelson's straight-from-the-gut beautifully written two-hander attracted Weaver and Murray to the project. Their names and the play's timeliness were the magnet for people to come. Those who came were sufficiently moved by the words and the performances to fill the house. When Murray left at the end of January, Bill Irwin stepped in through February 9th.

For Jim Simpson, the director (also the artistic director of The Flea) and the actors The Guys was a way to both give fellow New Yorkers a means of dealing with the numbing grief of a monumental, life altering tragedy and for the theater to survive its own disastrous economic fallout from being located just twelve blocks from the World Trade Center. While that first run received a good deal of publicity and positive reviews from the small circle of critics invited, it was hard to say whether The Guys would have a life once 9/11 no longer overshadowed every moment of our days and dominated every news story.

Having just seen The Guys, with Susan Sarandon as its second Joan and Anthony LaPaglia as its third Nick, I can safely say that the play has lost none of its impact. Lexicographers have adopted 9/11 as a common term and more than five months have passed since the Towers collapsed. People are going back to the normal that Joan fears has become impossible. The play is probably a tad less painful to watch. But then as laughter is heard as often as sobs at mourning rituals like wakes and shivas, The Guys is not unremittingly grim. Sarandon and LaPaglia adroitly capture the intermittent humor in Joan's wry ruminations and Nick's awkward and increasingly expansive reminiscences. When a hint of a grin plays at the edges of Mr. LaPaglia's mouth, breaking through the controlled despair, it feels like a wide smile, a ray of hope that what Joan calls "my beautiful, gleaming, wounded city" will recover.

The play's only action scene grows out of a shared confidence, part of the building sense of understanding and warmth between Nick and Joan. When he mournfully comments on how nobody has fun any more she tells him about a tango wedding party given by a couple who met at a tango club. This prompts him to reveal that, like the men in uniform whose uniqueness he's trying to convey, he too has an unexpected side. He's been taking dancing lesson for years.

People who've seen LaPaglia's terrific performance in the film Lantana in which he plays a detective who is enrolled in a dance class, (See
s review), will think that the make-believe dance that follows (a mischievous bit of fourth wall breaking by Joan) was written in especially for his appearance. Not so. I checked the copy of the script that was included in my press kit, and it was there for Bill Murray and Bill Irwin -- only for them it wasn't a case of art coinciding with art.

Jim Simpson's direction is quiet and thoughtful with nothing but the above mentioned scene to relieve what is essentially a talking heads set-up of two actors sitting in matching arm chairs, with a script discreetly available on a music stand. While there's a costume credit, Ms. Sarandon could have picked her simple shirt and slacks out of her own closet. Mr. LaPaglia does get to switch from his navy sweatshirt into a fire captain's uniform for the powerful final scene which alternates between a monologue by Joan and Nick's delivery of one of the eulogies they composed together. In short, the bells and whistles of The Guys come from the words and the actors who so eloquently speak them.

There's talk of more acting duos to keep this play going. And why not? We may not need The Guys to remind us that 9/11 happened. But as our "wounded city" goes back to being "beautiful and gleaming" we do need to remind ourselves that what makes New York the city people from Oklahoma, and Indiana and Dubuque fall in love with year after year after year are all those unique New Yorkers -- like Joan, and Nick -- like Bill Doughterty, Jimmy Hughes, Patrick O'Neill and Barney Keppel, who perished but live on in this play.

Playwright: Anne Nelson
Directed by Jim Simpson
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia and Susan Sarandon
Sets and Lights: Kyle Chepulis
Costume Design: Claudia Brown
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Flea Theater, 41 White St., (Broadway/Church St--3 blocks south of Canal, near1, 9, N, R, Q, W, 6, A, C and E subway lines212-206-1515 or
2/21/02-3/14/02 (La Paglia through March 5th only--Bill Irwin on March 7th, actor for March 7-14th TBA)
Mon-Thurs @ 7pm. -- $55; limited $15 tickets for firefighters and Port Authority workers with ID and $25 rush tickets sold to same day Wait List based on availability
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on February 27, 2002 performance performance.
Last New York perfromance 12/31/02

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