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by Jordan Hiller

The Guys

Anne Nelson’s The Guys, a play about a fire-captain unable to find the words to eulogize his men lost in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the writer who helps him search inward, makes an unspoken argument that perhaps we in the city were already aware of. That in many ways September 11th did not happen to the universe, or the civilized world, or even to the United States of America - it happened to New York. The film, directed subtly by Jim Simpson who also helmed the stage version, personifies New York and makes it the third player in a dramatic triangle filled out by Anthony Lapaglia as the (literally and figuratively) speechless captain and

Sigourney Weaver (who originated the role on stage) as a writer – representing the typical New Yorker who feels a gaping void and emptiness despite suffering no personal loss of friend or family. But the play (I will continue to call the film "a play" because it essentially acts like one and likely should have remained one for aesthetic reasons) reminds us with stunning lucidity why September 11th affected us so deeply.

Because our city was wounded.

Our city was wounded.

New York, the cosmic being, the constellation, suffered a tragic amputation, a violent disfigurement on that day – one that can never heal. Think about the following: An image of the 2003 skyline of downtown New York. What bothers you more about the glaring absence of those towers? Is it that you are reminded of the loss of human life on 9/11 or – and consider this – is that you somehow sense that the city is in pain – that the city, like a mother made of concrete and steal, misses her two strapping twin boys? It’s similar to a modern day version of Jeremiah’s Lamentations with New York speaking instead of a ravaged Jerusalem.

The Guys deals directly and specifically with this vision of September 11th through Weaver’s journalist character who lives with her family on the UWS. Her journey provides the complex psychological heart of the play. (cont'd above)

Lapaglia’s stoic yet understandably vulnerable Nick takes on the burden of portraying normal but obviously difficult sorrow and shock after the deaths of many friends and acquaintances. I say “burden” because the film is in no way political or opinionated. Nick is not allowed to reflect on the larger picture and so his purpose is to break the events of the day down into a very human, very New York experience, and unfortunately he is one dimensional because of it. Lapaglia is dealing with his men being killed on the job. Period. No mention of terrorism or war or revenge – which, as we know, was the case. The job he speaks of is of course not ordinary – these guys were firemen – men who rush into infernos to save other men’s lives – The play allows the gravity of that to linger without spelling it out. Nick is on screen for a very practical purpose. He needs to find nice and insightful things to say about dead young men at a memorial service. The Guys knows that we know how and (with reservation) why they died, and so the play allows us to fill in those blanks – Anne Nelson wants us to think about individuals – with qualities and families and futures – who died – and then hopefully the tragedy of 9/11 will take on a more human, textured mold.

As New Yorkers, the play couldn’t be more relevant and familiar. It captures that unstable, almost ghostly few weeks following September 11th 2001 where there was an overwhelming sense of connection and understanding in the city. We felt each other’s nausea, angst, and insecurity. We were reborn as sensitive men and women willing to look into the eyes of our strange neighbor and say comforting things like “God bless America”, “How are you doing?” and “We’ll be all right.”

The event consumed us for a short period of time and The Guys accurately reflects all the helplessness and directionless determination of those unreal days. That may be its single triumph.

The Guys will (or should) have you in tears. On that front it is a shameless manipulator. It is a film centered on tearful, emotionally convincing eulogies delivered by Lapaglia with grace and feeling. Sure you are being choked up by dialogue constructed to draw those tears, but remember that the play was written in October of 2001. Back then we felt as though we’d be crying forever. Now, almost two numbing, self-involved years later we have the opportunity to cry again – and it works – it feels right. It is a harrowing reminder: Perhaps we have moved on to other things since that collapse of reality in September, but the city may still be in mourning.

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