On Stage, New York Commemorates the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

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.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working at my home in the northern part of New Jersey.  I called my office at New Jersey City University to find something out.  I called from my bedroom.  It was a quiet and peaceful morning. The leaves had started to change colors in the small woods behind my house; birds chirped.

“Are you watching TV?” Jeannine, the secretary who answered the phone, said in a frantic voice.

“No,” I said.  I hadn’t looked at the television all morning.

“Quick. Turn on the TV. Two large jetliners have crashed into the World Trade Center. They think it’s a terrorist attack,” she said.

I turned on the television and half sat, half fell into the chair in front of it as I saw smoke billowing from the tops of the Twin Towers.  I grabbed the phone and called my wife at the high school where she worked.  She took the call in an office where many teachers had gone to watch television’s coverage of the attacks.

I drive to work from west to east and the university is almost directly across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center.  For two weeks, on each day that I drove to work, from about fifteen miles out until I parked, a twenty-minute drive, I saw the thick, black smoke from the towers site fires billowing up into the blue September sky.  It was a sight I will not forget as long as I live.

Now, ten years later, no matter where you turn, whether it is television, literature, or film, there are anniversary memorials this week of the horrid terrorist attack that took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.,  and became an indelible part of American history.

The New York theater world will commemorate the tragic event, too, in a month-long series of plays about 9/11 and its aftermath.  There will be one-night shows featuring television and movie stars, plays in Off-Off-Broadway theaters featuring casts of unknowns, memorials at famous theaters and memorials at the not so famous.  Theaters uptown will honor the victims of the terrorists and so will theaters downtown that were so close to the assaults on the towers.

Tuesday through Friday, at various locations, Sigourney Weaver and Tom Wopat will star in The Guys, a play about an editor who helps a New York fire captain at the World Trade Center write eulogies for the men he lost.  The play was written shortly after the attacks and has been produced around the country.

Entertainment stars Mario Cantone, Billy Crudup, Jeremy Piven, Samuel L. Jackson and others will star in 110 Stories, by Sarah Tuft.  The drama is based on first-person accounts of the tragedy and its aftermath. It will be staged on  Thursday and Friday at NYU’s Skirball Center at Washington Square Park.

Sweet and Sad, by Richard Nelson, opens at the Public Theater on Tuesday.  It tells the story of a Midwest family.  It begins when they sit down for lunch in their home on September 11.  The play runs through September 25. It is the longest running of the tribute plays.  Following the Thursday performance, actor Alec Baldwin will moderate a panel, ‘The 9/11 Decade: New York and America after the Towers.’

A Blue Sky Like No Other opens Tuesday at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.  The play, a one-man show by Steve Fetter, is about the attacks and how they changed Fetter’s life.

Pieces of Paper: Aspirations of 9/11, at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn, focuses on the work of volunteers who helped look for bodies and clean up at the World Trade Center.  It will be performed Thursday and Friday.

More or Less I Am is a musical tribute to New Yorkers by Obie Award winner David Patrick Kelly. It is based on Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself.” It will be performed at various venues Thursday through Sunday.

Perhaps the most ambitious project of all is the 9/11 Performance Project at John Jay College’s Gerald Lynch Theater.  The project will present three different new plays tied to the attacks and their aftermath.  These include The Domestic Crusaders by Wajat Ali, Another Life by Karen Malpede, and Demolition of the Eiffel Towers by Jeton Neziraj.  Another part of the project is the play We Were Kids: 9/11 Stories, a collection of scenes written by John Jay students.  At 5 p.m. on Thursday, the college will host The Guantanamo Lawyers Panel featuring several human rights lawyers and some who handled defense cases for Guantanamo detainees.

The Flea Theater will stage Invasion!, Jonas Hassen Khemin’s Obie award winning play about the lives of survivors of the WTC and how many became stereotyped by the experience.  The show will open Thursday and run through October 1.

In A City Reimagined, performers will read from first-person accounts of people in the trade center disaster gathered by an oral history project at Columbia University.  They will also stage a small play at the end of the readings.  The readings will take place at the Greene Space on Thursday and Friday.

Performing Tribute: Ordinary People, Remarkable Stories, staged by the Endurance Theater, will open at various venues around New York.  It is a series of vignettes about survivors of the attacks and the rescuers.

The New Work Now series at the Public Theater will feature the plays Zero by Julian Sheppard and Mangled Beams by  Dawn Jamieson, two works about the days after the attacks.  They will open Wednesday and continue through September 18.

The Hudson Guild Theater, from September 8-17, will produce New York, a play with sixteen scenes, all connected to tell the story of the aftermath of the attacks and how the catastrophe affected hundreds of New Yorkers.

The Song of Job 9:11 is a musical tribute to the victims of 9/11 with numerous sung references to the Book of Job in the Bible.  It will be presented at various sites around the city.

In Orange Alert, at the South Street Seaport from Sept 9-11, audiences can watch Robert Funaro star in Stephen Girasuolo’s play about present-day Ground Zero and the restoration of the neighborhood.

Will Swenson stars in 10 Years after Paradise, by Israel Horowitz, part two of a stage series that began several years ago with Horowitz’s Three Weeks After Paradise.  It will be performed at the Cherry Lane Theater on September 11.

At Judson Memorial Church on September 11, a show called In the Name of God will be staged. The show focuses on the challenge to faith by people who were eyewitnesses to the attacks.

Finally, on Friday September 9, hundreds of members of the New York theater community will gather at Duffy Square to sing ‘New York, New York’ as a tribute to the dead and a memorial to the survivors of the attacks.

It will be a somber week at the theater to commemorate a very somber historical event.

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

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