Just one of "The Guys’
When Tim Robbins, the founding artistic director for The Actors’ Gang, an L.A.-based theater company, first saw “The Guys” performed in New York, he was “completely taken with how moving it was.” Now, his theater company is performing it, and they’re bringing it to Beaver Creek’s Vilar Center August 12, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.
“The Guys” is a two-person play based on a real New York fire chief who was faced with the unbearable task of eulogizing most of his crew who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Journalist and author Anne Nelson helped him complete the task at hand, and then used her experience to create the play.
The festival’s overarching theme is “True Stories: Real Drama.” All of the performances during the five-day, six-play festival are based on real events or people – with artistic license, of course.
Adele Robbins, Tim’s sister, will be playing Nelson’s character; V.J. Foster will be the fire chief. Tim and Susan Sarandon just finished a stint playing the two characters in L.A., and future actors slated for the roles include William H. Macy and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
“It was clear to me that Anne Nelson understands the humanity of these
firefighters,” writes Tim. “She doesn’t shy away from the fact that they had flaws. She also celebrates their unflagging sense of humor. The simple documentary form of “The Guys’ is very powerful. It’s true, and
there’s drama in that alone.
Nelson did change some of the facts for the sake of the families.
“I changed as much as I could in order to protect the privacy of the people involved,” explained Nelson. “That’s been a pleasant surprise that it worked. It was written so soon after the event, and press attention was something those families didn’t need. I’m really glad it worked so well.”
Since she wrote the play, she hasn’t changed it much. It seemed to come out fully formed. Though she expected it to be performed in New York City, she had no idea it would reach out across state lines and be embraced nationwide.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to speak to people on this scale,” she said. “It has wrapped itself around so much sorrow, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with me. But to be a part of this, it’s been very gratifying and moving. For me a large part of (being happy with it) is it didn’t get screwed up.”
It’s been called cathartic by more than one critic, in more than one city. It calls to mind “The Grapes of Wrath” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” both pieces of literature that have become synonymous with crystallizing a time and place of history, and humanizing it with people.
“Those are both books that interest me,” she admitted. “And having grown up in Oklahoma where they had the Dust Bowl experience, I thought a lot about “The Grapes of Wrath,’ but also other books of Steinbeck’s. I thought about helping the culture communicate with itself, and how to cross time.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a book she respects and admires, too.
“People read them because they’re good writing, but also to connect,” she said. “I have no way of knowing how long “The Guys’ will speak to people. I certainly didn’t expect it to go this far.”
Tim has definite ideas about that type of communication.
“At The Actors’ Gang, we strive to present theatrical works that bring
communities together in a way that only the medium of theater can,” he writes. “We focus on plays that have something to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about our society and culture, while never forgetting that theater’s primary purpose is still to entertain. We are thrilled for the opportunity to bring “The Guys’ to your community, and hope that the experience of this powerful play is as meaningful to you as it was for our audiences in Los Angeles.”
The opening night of the show is serving as a benefit for the firefighters and emergency responders who worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks. Because of the way the buildings pulverized, many of them inhaled heavy metals are are now suffering physically and mentally because of it. The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project was created to help get those metals and other carcinogens out of their systems. All proceeds raised by opening night of “The Guys” go to the fund that helps the workers get that treatment for free. Insurance companies won’t cover it.
Tickets for the regular performances are $50, and for opening night are $100, $250 and $500, which includes a reception a few New York firefighters as well as local firefighters.
“If there are any firefighters in the community who come, I’d really like to thank them for what they do,” said Nelson.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.