The trauma of 9/11 will play out on stage this weekend, including real-life reflections from a New York City firefighter, when the Kokomo Civic Theatre kicks off its 2021-22 season with “The Guys”.
Inspired by true events, “The Guys” tells the story of Nick, a fire captain who lost most of his crew during the World Trade Center attack, and Joan, a journalist and Midwestern transplant to the Big Apple. Nick asks Joan for help writing eulogies for the men he lost, and he spends an afternoon telling her about whom they were as people.
The play stars Alan Girton as Nick and Angie Bowman as Joan. Beth Metcalf is the director, with a script written by Anne Nelson.
After each performance, David Morkal, an Indiana native and current New York City fire battalion chief, will be on hand to answer questions about his experiences during 9/11. He is a native of Bennetts Switch and a college friend of Metcalf’s from the University of Evansville theatre program.
“Being a theater person and being a fireman, when he first came across [“The Guys”] script, he was like ‘oh my gosh, this is perfect.’ He turned me on to it several years ago and said it was perfect for civic theaters and it really tells the story right,” said Metcalf. “So I kept it in the back of my mind for a long time, and then with it being the 20th anniversary, we thought it was the perfect time to do it.”
Metcalf said the biggest challenge of doing a play with difficult subject matter is keeping the emotions real.
“The reason [Nelson] wrote it is to let people feel 9/11, instead of as something you just saw on TV or some numbers that were thrown out there about how many people died. This gives the audience a chance to really meet some of the people and have a little bit of a cry.”
“It’s an honor to bring some attention and focus to what went on and some of the emotions of [9/11],” said Bowman.
“The Guys” debuted off-Broadway on Dec. 4, 2001, at the Flea Theater in Tribeca and starred Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. The following year a film was made starring Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia.
It wasn’t lost on Metcalf and her cast members that there are many parallels between 9/11 and the current COVID-19 pandemic. The process of working on a play about a nation-changing tragedy during a nation-changing tragedy included encountering terms in the script like “the new normal” and constant references to loss.
“We talked about how we thought [9/11] was the worst thing we were going to see in our life,” said Metcalf. “And now we have another thing that is hopefully the worst thing we are going to see in our lifetime.”
Because of the continuing nature of the pandemic and the performance being held at Havens Auditorium at IU Kokomo, audience members will be required to wear a face mask as per Indiana University guidelines. There will also be socially distanced seating.
Despite the COVID precautions, Metcalf hopes it doesn’t deter people from coming to see the play. The performance is just over an hour, she said, and she believes young people who were not alive or old enough to understand the impact of 9/11 would especially benefit from seeing “The Guys”.
“For those who didn’t experience it, the play will bring it a little more close to home for them,” she said. “We keep talking about there are 20-year-olds who weren’t there, and that’s hard to believe. I was a young adult and they need to know what it was like.”
“Think back to some of the great films about WWII or even Vietnam,” said Girton. “Our generation hasn’t experienced that, but through the art we can kind of get a sense of what it was like for those people. I challenge anyone to watch the D-Day scene [from ‘Saving Private Ryan’] and not question if they could have survived that. I think art has a way of bringing people along and saying, this was a real thing, this is how people really were, and this is the real impact of a very tragic event.”
Metcalf hopes the play and the humanity within will also bring renewed life to the phrase “never forget” and keep it from becoming a platitude.
“These are people,” she said of the characters. “And they talk about real people. And those people were just ordinary people. Part of the play talks about heroes, and the fire chief says, ‘These guys were just guys. They were doing their jobs. They weren’t trying to be a hero. I don’t [understand] what the media is saying about them.’ There is that aspect where the media blows everything up. These were just people.”
“The Guys” runs through Sept. 24-26 with show times at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets at $15.
The next Kokomo Civic Theatre performance is “All Together Now”, a global theater event and showcase of Broadway songs. It runs from Nov. 12-14.
Tickets can be purchased at https://www.kokomocivictheatre.org/