As we approach the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, it's only proper that "The Guys," the first play to react to the terrible day, receive a St. Louis production. It's a good one, too, with Alan Knoll and Laurie McConnell offering excellent work. The play opened last night in a Crestwood Court performance space, and will -- ironically -- run through Sept. 11.
Anne Nelson, a writer and a teacher of writing, wrote the play almost as an afterthought. A friend asked her to help a New York city fire captain, who had the untenable task of having to deliver eulogies for eight of his men who died in the World Trade Center. The eulogies morphed into the play, which opened in December, 2001, with Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver as Nick and Joan, and since has been seen around the world with a wide variety of actors.
Nelson asks a lot of the audience as we hear Nick's sometimes-awkward descriptions of his men turned immediately into luminous prose, but Knoll and McConnell, offstage husband and wife, carry it off under the kind, sympathetic direction of Tom Martin, who allows things to get close to bathos, but always keeps a strong wall in place.
Nick, who was not on duty that morning, is a fire fighter, not an author. He visits Joan, seeking help in finding the words for eight eulogies, and she carefully draws him out, asking the right questions and encouraging him to find the details that will transform these fire fighters into living, breathing, human men. He holds himself together with all his strength as he searches his memory. He loved the men who worked for him, and it was only the luck of the draw that had him at home when the disasters struck.
Knoll, who rarely delivers less than a clear, open, easy-to-understand performance, strikes the perfect balance. McConnell, who has been doing more stage acting recently (she's been best known as a radio personality), is growing more confident as an actor, less fearful of exposing herself. Her interpretation of Joan is first-rate. The character, a writer, skates along an edge and easily could dissolve into an excess of emotions, but McConnell keeps her working like a good reporter, under control, who can stand apart and dispassionately write a story.
Now, 10 years after another "day that shall live in infamy," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years earlier, and after 10 years of soul-searching, analysis, pontification and processing, it's probably time to move along, but it is not a time to forget, and "The Guys," is an excellent jog to memory. As Nelson writes, "Normal will be different," and we need to learn to find it, and to live with it.
The Guys, a River City Theatre production, opened last night at a performance space in Crestwood Court, and will continue through Sept. 11