nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 22, 2011
On 9/11/2001, I was at home, in an apartment just two blocks from the World Trade Center; when the first tower fell that morning, our building was shrouded in the blackest black soot I've ever seen and for a few heart-stopping moments we wondered if we'd live to see it clear. (We did.) The smell—what one of the characters in WTC View calls "barbecuing a computer"—lingered in our neighborhood for weeks, and memories of that day and its aftermath have never quite gone away.
WTC View, which is about life in Lower Manhattan during the weeks right after 9/11, is very special to me. Many "9/11 plays" were produced in the months and years following the attacks, but this was the only one that truly resonated with me, capturing as it does exactly how it felt to be one of the people who lived near what we now call Ground Zero: the smell and the noise and the horrifying uncertainty, during the days immediately after, every time an airplane flew overhead or too many sirens rang out from the street. Playwright Brian Sloan, who lived about a dozen blocks from the World Trade Center, wrote this play based on his own actual experience; as he puts it:
The last thing I did on the evening of September 10, 2001, was place an online ad for a roommate in the Village Voice. Believe it or not, on the twelfth I had a number of people calling wanting to look at my apartment, even though I was not there and they could not get downtown to see it, as it was in the "frozen zone."
From this starting point, Sloan introduces us to Eric, the young man in need of a roommate, who is suffering from the same kind of post-traumatic stress disorder that lots of us went through in those days and months; Eric's best friend Josie, an Upper East Sider who never quite "gets" what's going on downtown; and a succession of potential roommates, each of whom experienced the events of 9/11 in a different, representative way. WTC View is a remarkable time capsule, documenting what it was like to be in New York during that crucial time. It's also a story of grief, guilt, survival, and reconciliation—the play's last, but unseen, character is Will, Eric's ex-boyfriend, who brought him to Brooklyn on 9/11 and wants him to return there.
I won't pretend to be objective about WTC View; I liked the play so much that I included it in the NYTE anthology Plays and Playwrights 2004. It's a tough play for me to watch, because so many of its details ring so true and remind me of stuff I'd just as soon not think about. There is, for example, a moment when Eric recalls the last time he went shopping at the mall at the World Trade Center and hung out on the plaza eating Krispy Kreme donuts. Or the one when Eric chides an NYU student named Max for believing in those candlelight vigils at Union Square. Or the one when Josie complains as Eric lights up a cigarette, and he replies, talking about the still-smoldering fire at Ground Zero, "If it's still smoking, I'm still smoking."
This new production at 59E59 comes at the beginning of what will surely be a summer of buildup to the 10th anniversary this coming September. It's directed by Andrew Volkoff, who also directed the original production at FringeNYC 2003, and features a fine cast of actors, several of whom are young enough to not have been adults on 9/11/2001. As I watched I wondered how this feels to them, and how it feels to anyone who wasn't there, whose memory is dimming or less vivid because of the passage of time or the safety of distance. To me, the play retains tremendous emotional resonance along with its documentary significance.
Nick Lewis plays Eric, and depicts his sorrowful journey thoughtfully. Memorable among the supporting players are Torsten Hillhouse as Jeff, an operative for mayoral candidate Mark Green who comes to look at Eric's apartment, and Martin Edward Cohen as young Max. The design is spare but suggestive; David Margolin Lawson's sound recreates—perhaps too faithfully—the noise of Lower Manhattan in September 2001.
Those who went through 9/11 in some direct fashion won't ever forget it, and others shouldn't forget it either, though the reason why seems to be more and more elusive nowadays. Josie talks about how different everybody acted in the days immediately following, but reflects how quickly that ended; today it feels a lifetime ago. Did we learn anything from 9/11? WTC View might help remind you of the lessons of that tragic day.