September 11, 2013
(I originally posted this two years ago. When I read Kelly McAllister's blog post about his play Last Call today, I thought I would take another look at this, and having done so, share it with everyone.)
With the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2011 just a few days off, retrospectives of that cataclysmic day--and analyses of what it meant to us as individuals and as a nation--are seemingly everywhere.
So why should Indie Theater Now join the fray with a collection of plays exploring/inspired by the events of 9/11?
I hope you won't think me presumptuous when I say that these 13 works of theatre are singularly successful in helping us understand, come to terms with, and--most importantly--remember what 9/11 was like, and what it signified. These plays cover a great deal of ground, and re-reading them as I curated this particular collection was at once painful and deeply moving. I am proud that we have published this selection of 9/11-related plays to commemorate the 10th anniversary, and commend every one of them to our readers.
The first two are genuine rarities in that they are immediate reactions to the event. In October 2001, just a week or two after Lower Manhattan stopped being the "frozen zone" and people were allowed back in to live and work, The Present Company produced an evening of short works about the then-still-so-recent catastrophe. Two of their signature authors contributed memorable pieces that are the bedrock of Indie Theater Now's 9/11 Collection. Leslie Bramm's raw, scary Lovers Leapt imagines the journey through the air of a man and woman who have decided to jump from a high floor of the burning World Trade Center. And Julia Lee Barclay's No One is a lucid but horrified examination of the violence perpetrated on 9/11 and the subsequent violence it wrought.
Indie theater has looked at 9/11 from a number of perspectives since then. Two plays in our collection are written by Americans of Arab/South Asian descent, presenting their unique experience of heightened prejudice and fear following the World Trade Center attacks. Rehana Lew Mirza's Barriers, one of the first 9/11 plays (it premiered in 2002), looks at the members of a Muslim family who lost a son at the World Trade Center. It's compassionate, wise, and important, providing the rest of Americans with a point of view that is still too seldom heard. Sam Younis's comedy Browntown approaches similar issues in an entirely different way, showing us a trio of "brown" American actors (i.e., actors of Arab or South Asian ancestry) battling stereotypes as they audition for roles as terrorists in mainstream media following 9/11.
A number of wonderful plays have helped us process the lessons that 9/11 was supposed to have taught us about living our own individual lives more wisely. Kelly McAllister's magnificently humane drama Last Call is about a group of old friends who are the regulars at a California bar, and what happens when they are suddenly confronted with a buddy who had moved on to NYC and then, after 9/11, decided to rethink his priorities. (Kelly has posted some fascinating back story about this piece on his blog, here and here.) Other perspectives are offered by Matthew Freeman in his adventurous and lyrical piece The Americans, in which three men wander the city streets (literally and/or metaphorically) after the poem that one of them wrote causes the walls of his room to explode; and by Timothy Nolan in the compelling one-act Wrong Barbarians, in which the heightened states of fear and suspicion that became so prevalent in the USA after 9/11 lead to tragedy. And Frank Anthony Polito's contemporary romance Another Day on Willow St focuses on two couples who may not value each other or the scarce time they have together as much as they should.
9/11 has a political aspect, obviously, and this is addressed very differently in two plays in our collection. Panichorea, by Richard Hinojosa, is a hilarious satire of the overreaction by governments and citizens to so-called "crisis"; click the excerpt tab for as clear, cogent, and funny a take on our own post-9/11 national hysteria as you'll find anywhere. Edward Elefterion's Before Your Very Eyes, which is the newest play in this collection (first produced just about a year ago), looks at some of the conspiracy theories that proliferated following the fall of the Twin Towers, as well as the impact of the tragedy on a few specific New Yorkers and our nation as a whole.
There are so many 9/11 stories to tell! Adrian Rodriguez masterfully, poetically juxtaposes tales of rescue workers in a burning skyscraper, civilians trapped in a stairwell, and others in Mo(u)rning, which does not purport to be true but feels searingly authentic. And Tim Collins, a brilliant young solo performer, encapsulates a decade of his own experience--beginning on 9/10/2001, when he arrives in London as a foreign student in an English university--in the incisive A Fire as Bright as Heaven.
All of the foregoing plays are works I have seen and read; works that have helped me make sense of an event that constantly needs to be made sense of. There's one more item in our 9/11 Collection, something that neither I nor anyone else has seen on stage, because it is in fact an unproduced screenplay. Indie Theater Now is supposed to be all about theater texts, but when Marc Morales (author of such plays as Galaxy Video and The Show), sent me Tuesday in an email, I knew it had to be given a place here. It's a stark, beautiful, and touching vision of what happened on that particular Tuesday, nearly ten years ago. I have trouble talking about it without choking up. I hope that by giving it life here on Indie Theater Now, some enterprising film- or theater-maker will give it life on the screen or stage somewhere.
The plays in Indie Theater Now's 9/11 Collection will have special resonance this week and weekend, to be sure; but I believe they are timeless. Their messages are inspiring and wise and endlessly pertinent. They deserve long lives, which is why they're here, to be read and re-read and, hopefully, presented in theaters in months and years to come.