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A CurtainUp Review
---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
CurtainUp'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.
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