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EPAC presents post-9/11 one-act ‘The Guys’
By Michael C. Upton
Every American able to witness the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will always remember where they were when they heard about the largest terrorist attack on US soil.
“The Guys”, a play rekindling those memories, opened to a tepid crowd Thursday, Sept. 2 at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.
I was living in Maine, using my GI Bill and Navy College Fund to attend the state university. I only had one class that day, later in the afternoon, and I started my day much like I always did — coffee, a dog walk, and some time in front of CNN. I tuned in just as breaking news cut to a smoking World Trade Tower. The image of a gaping hole in the upper floors of the north tower prompted me to grab a VHS tape and quickly jam it into the VCR. I set the machine for EP and hit record. I don’t know why I had this instinct to record the days events. Just like I don’t know why, a few hours later after the collapse of the north tower I wandered down to the small town’s local watering hole leaving the TV and VCR running back at the apartment.
I wasn’t alone. The daytime bartender had opened early. And over the next hour all the regulars came walking in. Every TV in the sports bar was tuned to CNN. We watched Wolf Blitzer report from New Jersey, a smoldering Manhattan in the background. I don’t think any of us ordered a drink. We were just 20 or 30 people who needed to be around people we knew, in a place where we knew we were safe. The day went on. We watched with horror and hung onto every new report. All of this flooded back as “The Guys” opened in a darkened Sharadin Bigler theatre with a flashback of audio and imagery of that fateful day.
We are in Manhattan, several weeks after 9/11, in the comfortable and well-lived-in apartment of Joan (Lynne DeMers-Hunt). Joan is an editor and serves as narrator and she tells us all is not well in her beloved Big Apple. The attacks have taken lives but also mangled the psyche of all New Yorkers, who like many, became “witnesses of the world.” One of those lives tragically touched by the events is Nick Flanagan (Bob Checchia), a fire captain who lost several men who responded to the World Trade Towers. Now he is tasked to write their eulogies, something he is struggling with immensely.
Joan offers to help. They spend the day talking about the men, Joan diagnosing her interview subject like a professional and Nick finding all the right emotion and memories to bring the men to life on a written page. The tension is raw. Feelings come flooding out of both Joan and Nick as they struggle to grasp a reason for 9/11 while trying to make sense of their own place in a new normal (well before our newest normal of today).
The performance takes place entirely in Joan’s apartment, except for the end when we see Nick, in his dress uniform, deliver a eulogy. Eulogy, via Merriam-Webster: a commendatory oration or writing especially in honor of one deceased. But it is so much more and “The Guys” shows us why.
“The Guys” is an exploration of humanity. It is a reflection of our emotion, our combined emotion, our sense of spirit in the face of tragedy. While this is a welcome feeling, to connect once again to that which ultimately makes us stronger, this is the kind of production that made me just want to sit in silence. As the house lights came on and the crowd milled about, after the applause had faded, I wanted silence. I wanted further reflection. I wanted to pull myself out of that emotional chasm slowly, respectfully, and with every bit of reverence I could muster in my soul. “The Guys” is the type of production you witness more than watch. It affects more than it tells. Great theatre does this.
DeMers-Hunt’s delivery is devastatingly emotional and charged with reality. Checchia, a native New Yorker turned EPAC regular, lends a credibility and sincerity to a character that may be as close to home as any other. The pair are true professionals on the stage. “The Guys” is directed by Sean Young with costuming by Kate Willman and set design by Jordan Janota. Young’s vision of this timely production was to give back to the firefighting community, and with the blessing of Artistic Director Ed Fernandez and the EPAC board of directors, 20 percent of all show proceeds will be donated to the Ephrata Pioneer and Lincoln fire departments.
“The Guys” runs Wednesday through Saturday, with two performances on Saturday, Sept. 11. Visit .ephrataperformingartscenter.com/tickets or call (717) 733-7966 ext.1 for ticket information.