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A CurtainUp Review

By Amanda Cooper

Let us not fall into the caverns of brutality and darkness. Breathe deeply, let the light into your life.
---Christopher (narrator)
Roberta Maxwell& Dana Reeves
Roberta Maxwell& Dana Reeves (Photo: Joan Marcus )
True: we all remember where we were and what we were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001.

False: we all want to hear the experiences of seven more people on that tragic day.

As a New Yorker, I have told and retold my September 11 story an uncountable number of times. I have also heard an uncountable number of other true experiences, some of them ordinary, some chilling, some extraordinary, but all real.

Portraits, which recently opened Off-Broadway at the Union Square Theater, is a series of monologues about seven different Americans on 9/11, how they were affected, and who they are. Two of the characters are based on true stories, the rest are invented by playwright Jonathan Bell. Though I respect artistic license as much as the next theater patron, these fictionalized portraits left me feeling cheated.

The characters involvement varies from peripheral to direct -- a man is saved by being mid-affair, a woman from out of town wanting to reach out to someone dials her number but in a New York area code, another woman must deal with widowhood because her husband sacrificed his own life to help others escape. Though Bell constructed the play well, it's more a 90-minute catharsis than a satisfying theater experience.

The actors are stellar: Victor Slezak as the "lucky" adulterer, Darrie Lawrence as the out-of-town caller to her own number with a 212 prefix, Dana Reeve as the widow who wishes her husband had been less noble, Roberta Maxwell as a woman already widowed whose son escapes death, Matte Osian as an EMS worker who heads from Boston to Ground Zero to help and Anjali Bhimani anticipating harassment as an American-born Muslim. Mark Pinter's unassuming direction gives free rein to all on stage to establish rapport with the audience and make their characters whole and understandable. The only exception was on the part of the narrator played by Christopher Coucill, whose physical embodiment of a detached artist trying to find his tragic masterpiece comes off as awkward and pretentious.

The set, lights and sound (by Andrew Knapp, Aaron Meadow and Raymond D. Schilke respectively) add to the over-the-top effect that exasperates more than it exalts.

CurtainUp will be reviewing Omnium Gatherum and Recent Tragic Events. Maybe these will give New York theater goers more of a reason to revisit September 11, 2001 in the year 2003 -- as Portraits does not.

Other reviews of plays inspired by the events of 9/11:
The Guys
The Mercy Seat
Recent Tragic Events
Omnium Gatherum

Written by Jonathan Bell
Directed by Mark Pinter
Cast: Anjali Bhimani, Barbara Bosson, Roberta Maxwell, Dana Reeve, Victor Slezak
Set Design: Andy Knapp, with costumes by , lights by , sound by and
Costume Design: Charles Schoonmaker
Lighting Design: Aaron Meadow
Sound Design: Ray Schilke
Original Music: Joshua Pearl
Running time: 95 minutes
Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street {off Park Avenue South) 212/ 505-0700

Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $65; student rush, $15.
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on September 24th performance
To an early grave: Last performance 10/05/03

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