Ten Years Later: the Theater Tackles the National Tragedy of September 11, 2001 with a Riveting Play

Culture Watch

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News.

WTC View
59E59 Theater
59 E. 59th Street
New York, NY

WTC View, the sad but engaging story of a single man’s effort to get a roommate for his New York apartment that has a view of the World Trade Center on September 10, 2001, opened yesterday and is surely the first in a long parade of plays about the September 11 national tragedy on its tenth anniversary.

From coast to coast, there will be commemorative tributes to the nearly three thousand people who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.  There will be movies, television documentaries and memorial services.  There are at least two plays on their way to theaters this summer in the fringe festivals and there will be more in the fall.  New York is the theater capital of the world and stage works seem natural.

WTC View, by Brian Sloan, opens with the soulful wail of police and fire engine sirens outside Eric’s apartment, just twelve blocks from the Trade Center.  His window overlooks the Twin Towers and through it he watched their destruction.  Then the audience hears a succession of messages on his answering machine from his friends at different times on September 11 that paint a grim portrait of the day.

The play is the story of his search for a roommate.  Several men answer his ad and arrive to talk to him. There is Jeremy, an Englishman who just arrived to work at a hotel; Kevin, a tough-talking Jersey City man who had a one-night stand with a woman on the night of September 10 and woke up to look out her window at the planes hitting the towers.  There’s Jeff, a political consultant in overdrive who just arrived to work on the city elections of September 11, and Alex, the very corporate man who worked for Goldman Sachs.

All of these men seem ready to become Eric’s roommate, but for one reason or another that does not happen.  Eric is nervous and tells his endlessly perky married female friend Josie all about his apprehensions.  She, in turn, vents to him about her anger at her husband.  She is his rock and a pivotal character in the play, the one person urging all to try to go back to their normal lives.

Through his conversations with each of the characters we learn that Eric is a freelance photographer who split with his male lover several months earlier.  His roommate is gone and he can’t pay the rent himself.  During these conversations we also learn that Eric is deeply troubled by the WTC tragedy.  He constantly looks out the window when he hears sirens and frantically turns to a music radio station to listen for emergency bulletins.

Sloan has written a moving and evocative play.  As soon as you hear the sirens at the start of the drama you are pulled back in time ten years to that fatal day.  The playwright uses very realistic characters who convey the views of different types of people in New York at the time.  They recreate the day and all of its horror.

Eric, who has lived in the apartment ten years, is a resident of Soho, in lower Manhattan, which is very different from the rest of the city and after the tragedy he feels like he and his friends have been abandoned by the rest of the town.  His resentment, worry about another strike, and his own future grow and grow as the play unfolds.  WTC View is a play of unremitting, low-boil power that moves along at a slow but determined pace until its furious ending.

The play has its problems. It opens well, but towards the middle of it the story and dialogue drag.  You wonder what is going to happen.  Is this just a series of vignettes and nothing more?  It is just one hour and forty-five minutes, but even that length seems too long.  At the end of the play, though, when things covered up are revealed, the drama becomes searing, scalding and carries everybody in the theater back to that harrowing time.  The ending is a dramatic knockout. 

One of the real strengths of the play is that Sloan reminds the audience of all the little nuances of life from that period, nuances that many of us had forgotten over the years.  The main character, Eric, has to shut his window because of the ash-drenched air that floats through it and lands on his furniture.  Sometimes he wears a face mask.  He talks about the people standing on subway platforms holding photos of lost loved ones, of the memorials at the firehouses, shopping at the Trade Center’s underground mall, the Windows on the World restaurant, the times people stood on the Trade Center’s visitors deck and watched the world from it; the deck was so high up that he could actually see the curvature of the earth.  In the play, the heroism of police and firefighters is discussed, along with the people that jumped to their deaths or were immolated in the fires.  Different characters talk of the falling buildings, the Air Force jets that flew over the city every night for weeks, the clouds of dust, panic in the streets and the fear that the terrorists would strike again.

The play takes place in a small theater in a single bedroom, with the tiny stage surrounded by members of the audience, yet director Andrew Volkoff uses the characters well to bring in everything that happened in New York during the month of September 2001.  He keeps the play moving along nicely and plays his actors off against each other very well.

The acting in the story is superb.  Nick Lewis, a tall, thin man with a mop of curly sandy hair, is one stage almost all of the time and is the centerpiece of the story.  With great skill, he makes Eric, a vulnerable man in his early thirties, a slowly ticking time bomb.  The jaunty, immaculately dressed Bob Braswell is a delight as the British Jeremy.  Leah Curtney makes Josie sad, funny and at times furious.  Political worker Jeff is played well by Torsten Hillhouse. Tough-talking Kevin, who bears an uncanny resemblance to 1980s bad boy actor Andrew Dice Clay, is played by Michael Carlsen.  Patrick Edward O’Brien is wonderful as the young Goldman Sachs broker Alex.  A hyperactive college student who wants to rent the apartment, Max, is played with panache by Martin Edward Cohen.

Everybody in New York somehow knew people who died at the World Trade Center.  I lost a boyhood friend, four adjunct teachers at my University and four residents of my New Jersey town.

WTC View is a reminder of a sad day and yet it is also about the triumph of the human spirit and evokes the will of New Yorkers, and Americans, to move on, to overcome the tragedy as they overcame so many tragedies throughout history.

Life does go on.  The World Trade Center is rising up from the ashes and its memorial park opens in the fall.

And Osama Bin Laden is dead, very dead.

PRODUCTION: Set: Brian Prather, Lighting: Jeff Davis, Costumes: Jacob A. Climer, Sound: David Margolin Lawson. The play is directed by Andrew Volkoff.

Bruce Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

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