“The Guys” of 9/11: A staged reading at Bay Street Theatre

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Myla, Gerry, Bill web

On Friday, September 11, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center will be marked with a staging of “The Guys” at Bay Street Theatre — a benefit performance for East End fire departments. Written by Anne Nelson, a Columbia Journalism School professor, the play is based on her experiences when she volunteered to help a New York City fire captain write eulogies for his men lost at Ground Zero.

“The Guys” offers profiles of four different firefighters lost that day — from the rookie out on his first call, to the seasoned professional with decades of experience under his belt. Gerard Priori directs this staging of the two character play, which stars Myla Pitt as Jane, the writer, and William McKay as Nick, the fireman. The play has particular meaning for McKay who, in 2001, was a volunteer firefighter in East Norwich, Long Island and on the morning of 9/11, was on a train headed to an 11 a.m. acting class in Manhattan.

“Had I been there, would I have gone? I don’t know,” admits McKay.

When “The Guys” premiered at the Flea Theater in lower Manhattan in December 2001, firefighters were encouraged to attend.

“Being an actor and firefighter, I went immediately. It was extremely moving and emotional,” says McKay. “It was hard for me to sit still through it. The room was very tense.”

In 2004, McKay performed the piece with Pitt for the first time at The Actors Studio, where both are members.

“By then 9/11 was three years old,” he says. “But because it was for a room of New Yorkers, it was still intense and I could’ve sworn the audience still had that feeling of loss.”

“I didn’t feel the healing had really begun,” he adds. “But lately it’s more of a memory play for me — to remind people of the event.”

Pitt and McKay have continued to work on the play. Because they’ve spent so much time on it, they have been able to delve into the nuances.

“I think we’re always finding new things at every rehearsal,” says Pitt. “That’s the pleasure of doing things over again. Often wish I could go back and do a play again, because there’s something I realized I wanted to do.”

As director, Priori came to “The Guys” in 2007 when he saw McKay and Pitt in the play in Great Neck.

“Initially, my experience was very much through the perception of Nick, of being the fire chief losing his men,” notes Priori. “But after seeing the play and meeting Myla and two years later, doing it, I now look at the piece more from Joan’s perspective.”

“Joan is our entrance into the fire chief,” he adds. “This tragedy is unimaginable, and we’re seeing it through her eyes, coaxing, directing and writing eulogies.”

The help-lessness people felt in the aftermath of 9/11 is embodied in both characters. But for those who watched the events that day at a safe distance from Ground Zero, the sorrow, while real, is different than it is for those who were there or lost loved ones.

“Having Jerry directing has really added so much, it’s given us another perspective,” notes McKay. “Joan has experienced 9/11, but not directly. For the rest of the audience, that’s mostly true. We were all so affected, but how do we experience that because we didn’t go to the funerals?”

“The main focus of the play is the completely human aspect,” continues Priori. “It doesn’t go into the attack, the politics or war per se. It’s just very much about the human tragedy and how we cope with it. Sometimes it feels a little presumptuous to be hysterically sorrowful about the tragedy when it didn’t effect you directly. This gives you a perspective, it’s okay for people who weren’t there to mourn.”

“We have had a lot of firefighters in the audience and many people have come up to us and say how meaningful it was to them, and how cathartic,” says Pitt. “There are also those who still can’t come, because it’s just too hard for them, even this year.”

“The Guys” is at 8 p.m. Friday, September 11, 2009 at Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $15 and benefit East End fire departments. Call 725-9500 for more information.

Above: (L to R): Myla Pitt, Gerard Priori and William McKay


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