In 1911, 146 immigrant workers died in
the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire because the owners kept
the doors locked and the lone fire escape buckled under the weight
of the fleeing girls.
In 1912, 1,500 men and women lost their lives when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank because the owners of the cruise line had skimped on construction, the captain refused to reduce the ship’s speed despite warnings of treacherous waters, and proper safety precautions had never been put in place.
In 1941, 2,403 military personnel and civilians were killed when the Japanese launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Yet none of these events seems to have had the psychological and emotional impact of Sept. 11, 2001 - the fear, the anger, and the conviction that nothing will ever be the same again. One way of dealing with this emotional overload is by creating heroes and villains, something that’s done extraordinarily well through propaganda.
From serious drama, we have the right to expect something better.
"The Fallen 9/11," a new play by Park Slope resident Robert Marese, now at the Producers Club Grand Theater in Manhattan, begins with a 9/11 survivor, Michael Sinclair (Kent Giltz), visiting the grave of his hero, firefighter Terry Rourke (Timothy Davis). Sinclair is accompanied by St. Barbara (Heather McHugh), who warbles "Where were you the day the angels cried, the day our innocence died?" (The lyrics to "Where Were You" were written by Marese and McHugh, to music composed by Bronwen Coleman.)
It’s not a bad song, and the event was certainly sorrowful, but this reviewer would like to know why the angels only cried on this particular date and how these heavenly beings decide whether or not a tragedy is worthy of tears - let’s say the death of Americans versus the death of Sudanese.
Be that as it may, that saccharine moment passes and the action soon shifts to Sept. 11, and the rest of the play is told as a flashback. Sinclair is trapped under fallen concrete and suffers from a concussion and a smashed leg. Although he is enduring excruciating pain, he manages to remark when Rourke arrives, "It must be almost impossible for you to negotiate your way through all this debris" - a sentence many people might have trouble enunciating under the best of circumstances.
The rest of the play continues with a mind-boggling assortment of platitudes. Here’s an inadequate taste: "Maybe you need a reality check," "Youth is truly wasted on the young," "You are who you are and there’s no turning back," and "I’m too busy playing the game."
The problem is Marese is so busy writing a eulogy to the fallen firemen he forgets that good plays are character driven. And good characters are real people who stand out as individuals, not generic heroes.
In place of character and plot, Marese gives the audience a play-length "reach out and touch" moment. Sinclair and Rourke exchange confidences. They talk about their families: Rourke is happily married and devoted to his wife and children; Sinclair is stuck in an apparently loveless marriage. They examine their ideals (in Sinclair’s case his lack thereof). They find out that they were both raised in Brooklyn. But nothing is ever explored in any depth.
Under Rourke’s tutelage, Sinclair comes to realize that he needs to make a change in his empty life, dedicated to the pursuit of material goods. The noble Rourke learns how to - well, let’s not give away the ending in case anyone actually decides to see this one.
Dunsten J. Cormack, who directs the play, makes a heroic attempt to give it some meaningful action. He has Rourke (who has already said there’s no way out and he will just have to wait with Sinclair until help arrives) checking various spots here and there on the stage with his flashlight and trying manfully to lift heavy slabs. It’s never clear exactly what he’s trying to do, other than give the audience something to watch.
As Rourke, Davis - who is a good actor - struggles with his ridiculous material, but is defeated by it in the end. He may be the true tragic figure in the play. As for Giltz as Sinclair, he has about three modes - angry, pained and remorseful. He sounds best when he just keeps quiet.
Marese has written in a surprise ending that would make even the most ardent supporter of deus ex machina blush. If the surprise is not entirely unexpected, however, it certainly is welcome - mostly because it signals the end of the play.
The nicest thing about "The Fallen 9/11" is that all profits from the production will be donated to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows and Children’s Fund. But there certainly must be better ways to collect money for a good cause.
Grendel Productions’ "The Fallen
9/11" plays through Oct. 3 (Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday
at 3 pm) at the Producers Club Grand Theater (358 W. 44th St.
at Eighth Avenue in Manhattan). Tickets are $25, $15 students.
For tickets, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.theate