Wheeler Arts Center
Directed by Jennifer Loia Alexander
Through Aug. 27
Five years after Sept. 11, it is still hard to deal with the emotions the memory of that day brings out. Even with the many documentaries and recent films (Flight 93 and World Trade Center), desensitization has not kicked in to a population that has proved itself capable of being desensitized to all sorts of atrocities, both foreign and domestic.
The Guys, a play being produced by CTI at the Wheeler Arts Center, brings those emotions crashing back to the surface. Through two characters, it humanizes the heroes, and shows the psychological repercussions of being someone who survived and someone who was useless in the wake of a disaster.
Nick, played by James Leagre, is a New York fire captain who lost eight of his men Sept. 11, 2001. He has been asked to speak at their funerals, but finds he is incapable of crafting anything remotely fitting. He is introduced to Joan (Miki Mathioudakis), a writer who is glad to have the chance to feel she is doing her part for the city she loves. Joan uses direct address to the audience to add explanation and thoughts on the situation, and one of her early statements speaks to the plight many people were faced with. Eager to help, she says the call-out for workers requested plumbers and carpenters — intellectuals could go to the “back of the line. ”Finally, then, here was her opportunity to be useful. But while Nick is the one who suffered the loss of friends, Joan, also, feels the horror while helping Nick memorialize the men who were caught in the crossfire of terrorism.
Joan asks Nick to describe the men he is going to speak about. One by one, from men he knew only briefly to his best friend, Nick recounts the idiosyncrasies of four of his fellow firefighters.
The message is that these men didn’t set out to be heroes: They were ordinary Joes doing extraordinary things. But their individuality makes the situation all the more tragic. From church picnics to welding tools, these weren’t superheroes, but friends and fathers, which drives their loss home.
Mathioudakis is a superb actress, and here the emotions roll off her in waves. Her performance is stirring; it is she, as the outsider, that most of us can relate to. We can take this journey with her through tears to laughter to quiet reflection to outbursts of rage. Her monologues keep us drawn in, as if we are having a conversation with her instead of just passively absorbing the situation.
Leagre plays his character with a nod towards the open-hearted good old boy. He is easily likeable, even if his lack of clearly expressed anger or grief is hard to understand at times. Though men often retreat into themselves during times of high stress, dealing with such a personal crisis would elicit more reaction, I would think. For the most part, though, his portrayal as just one of the guys helps to reiterate the humanity of the men he lost.
Director Jennifer Loia Alexander guides this beautiful tribute to what everyone went through on that day. What’s more, the proceeds of the show are being donated to the Indiana “America We Remember Fund.”
Live music precedes each performance and a talk by a firefighter follows each show.
The Guys continues through Aug. 27. Tickets are $20. For reservations, call 317-423-2999. The Wheeler is located at 1035 Sanders St.