Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Guys"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE GUYS"

by Anne Nelson
directed and designed by Pauline Wright

Joan … Carrie Russell
Nick … Stephen Cooper

Topical plays and docudramas tend to date curiously: their burning immediacy dims with Time’s passing yet their social relevance keeps them from turning nostalgic. Anne Nelson’s THE GUYS is a good example: Joan, a former journalist, living in New York, assists Nick, a firefighter, in writing eulogies for him to deliver at a memorial service for the men that he lost at the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. THE GUYS was first performed in New York in December 2001 to much acclaim; the following year, it became an award-winning film. My attending the Salem Theatre Company’s production, four years after the tragedy, was in comparison a cooler experience for Life is turning the page on 9/11 just as it did with Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima or the Holocaust; even the Oklahoma City bombing has receded into the past. THE GUYS served its original purpose as a memorial service itself for those who sacrificed their lives in order to save others but what is needed now is a four-years-later play, an AFTER THE GUYS, if you will. As it stands now, THE GUYS is no longer an Event but a period piece and a static one, at that --- Nick talks about four of the Guys while Joan comes up with amazingly polished first drafts and, aside from one sudden moment, that is that. That moment comes when Joan and Nick perform a chaste tango about the stage --- what threatens to turn THE GUYS down another avenue altogether is quickly nipped by Joan telling the audience that the sequence occurred only in her imagination. But the subtle damage has been done: Joan and Nick are far more interesting, separate and together, than the Guys who remain little more than whatever remembrances Nick can summon up. Had THE GUYS been written today, a Lady-and-The-Tramp love story might have resulted or the Guys would have been given a few warts (for example, what if Nick had discovered that one of his recovered men was found with pillaged loot in his pockets and must still eulogize him --- there were those rumors, remember?).

The Salem Theatre Company’s production has been staged in a converted storefront and it makes for a cozy little evening. Director Pauline Wright has gentled her duo into Ms. Nelson’s noble sentiments, allowing them to settle or to move about as the mood strikes them, and Carrie Russell and Stephen Cooper evoke that numbed reaching out that many Americans went through once they got their collective wind back. Both Ms. Russell and Mr. Cooper (and Ms. Wright, as well) appeared in the Mugford Street Players’ now-legendary production of OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD and it is good, indeed, to now see Ms. Russell as a warm and nurturing Joan after first encountering her as a sullen she-lag while Mr. Cooper, who remained in the shadows for much of Mugford’s recent THE WEIR, artlessly takes to center stage, here, infusing his Basic Joe with a wounded, working-class decency --- but that tango is what I’ll remember: even though THE GUYS is based on a true incident, it shoulda been a love story, y’know?

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"The Guys" (3 - 18 September)
SALEM THEATRE COMPANY
209 Essex Street, SALEM, MA
1 (978) 790-8546

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