CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
In Memoriam: The Guys at Sherman Playhouse
Far out thinking about 9/11, whether it be conspiracy theories about inside jobs, Bush administration
complicity, intimations of heavenly retribution for our sinfulness (as trumpeted by Jerry Falwell and
Pat Robertson), or Jewish plots (alliances between Jews and Saudi terrorists make about as much
sense as ones between Mother Teresa and Charles Manson), have much in common. They are all of
them attempts to root out the cause of events that leave us feeling vulnerable in the most profound
ways. They are also mythologies devised to get our heads around what devastates us by going on
the offensive and resorting to wild finger-pointing. All of them are attempts to muster available
energies to deal with our shaken state in the wake of events that frighten and overwhelm us.
Other spins on the tragedy are cut from the same cloth. In Ward Churchill's mind, for example, 9/11
has to be sourced as the effect of an imagined affront to radical Islam-as if what happened to
America on that fateful day in 2001 were somehow deserved. Yet this kind of hokum too is just
another adaptation to terrible events in a world all of us struggle to come to terms with.
Ann Nelson's The Guys is a drama based upon her own journalistic experiences following the 9/11
attacks. It has been produced overseas and in 48 states, and has been made into a feature film
starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia. The premise of the play may be a simple one, but
the emotional impact on audiences of The Guys is searing. One cannot see this play without
bringing to it an emotional loading already ingrained in all of us. It takes a kind of fortitude to see it,
and many closer to the tragedy in New York City seven years ago elect to opt out of so doing. This
reviewer knows others whose lives have been radically altered by 9/11, although they were never
personally privy to the tragedy themselves.
In the drama, a New York City fire captain, Nick (played by Steve Manzino), consults with Joan, a
journalist (played by Beth Bonnabeau-Harding) in order to help him write eulogies for eight fallen
comrades of the 9/11 attacks. Joan and Nick are thrown together almost fortuitously: "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." Then Joan muses that after the tragedy people all over the city "jumped
Nick cannot give voice to what he wants to say, and turns to Joan, a journalist who has a way with
words, to assist him in the task. Joan provides this, only to be swept up emotionally in the tide of
information Nick supplies about his fallen brethren, men who go by the names Patrick, Barney, Bill,
and Dave, among others.
Nick and Joan approach being iconic figures in their own right. He is every bit of Shakespeare's
unaccommodated man, the hero who is turned out into a savage world without the resources to deal
adequately with it. His handicap is that he cannot find the words to compose eulogies for his firemen,
an incapacity that only serves to magnify his humanity. The latter is further accentuated by the guilt
he feels in escaping the fate that befell his comrades: "I'm alive and he's dead-there's no reason for
it." He leans on the nurturing woman who helps him find his voice, but who is changed forever in the
process of so doing. He also has recriminations over the way his stumbling narrative has affected
Joan, and the tension is only temporarily relieved when he instructs her how to dance a tango during
the course of her tender mercies.
Joan herself becomes mobilized by Nick's account, and, stepping out of character to address the
audience, goes into a tirade about editorials in the Argentine press about how "American imperialists
had it coming," or how "The U. S. military is censoring pictures of the three thousand dead."
"Censoring what?" she screams, "We can't even find remaining pieces of them in the rubble."
Joan has a bit of a Brechtian heroine in her. Sensibly, director Susan Abrams has arranged to
supply evidence of Joan's caring nature. Although set in her sister's brownstone apartment, assorted
children's toys and playthings are visible on the Sherman Playhouse stage set. Joan comes wrapped
in nurture. Like Mother Courage, she has the mien of tending to broods-and then some.
Ms. Bonnabeau-Harding and Mr. Manzino aquit themselves capably in their roles (characterizations
that are a quantum leap from the fun they had in The Philadelphia Story in a recent production
elsewhere). Ms. Bonnabeau-Harding as Joan perhaps sums it up best when she observes: "We'll go
back to normal, but normal will be different." Right on.
Minority reviewers who in the past faulted Ms. Nelson's two person drama don't get it. Her play is
something more than a work that critics can approach as if they were reviewing Private Lives, King
Lear, or Guys and Dolls. It is a commemorative act, and seeing it is itself part of a ritual healing. And
that is why it will continue to be mounted on stages long after the talking heads insist it has become
The Guys opened on April 4, and will continue on Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00pm at The
Sherman Playhouse at the intersection of Route 37 and 39 in Sherman, CT. reservations can be
made by calling 860-354-3622, or by internet at www.shermanplayers.org, or by calling producer
Stacy-Lee Erickson at 860-350-2460.