Rain did not stop this wonderful benefit performance of The Guys by Anne Nelson for Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. The gentle pitter-patter of the raindrops added to the atmosphere.
The audience, those brave enough to weather this storm, were protected from the rain by Theatricum’s canopy that was erected to protect audiences from the sun, but it works as well to protect us from rain, given California’s current bipolar weather.
The front row may have gotten their feet a bit wet, but I doubt anyone wished they had stayed home and missed this rare opportunity to see two of America’s finest actors, Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria, tell the story about the after-effects of the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Joan (Wendie Malick), a reporter, helps Nick (Dan Lauria), a New York fire captain, prepare the eulogies for the eight firefighters who died under his command that day.
This gem of a play began with a montage of iconic footage and photographs from that terrible day showing on a screen accompanied by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace”, easing into melancholy choral music that set the mood.
Malick (This Is Us, Just Shoot Me, Hot In Cleveland) and Lauria (This Is Us, The Wonder Years) entered the stage and stood on either side of the screen, heads bowed respectfully, briefly, before getting down to the business of telling the story of what it was like to be a New Yorker and a first responder on that fateful day.
On the verge of tears, Nick describes what his men were like and Joan turns his words into brilliant, heartfelt eulogies that helped us understand and appreciate the caliber of the men who died that must have been enormous comfort to their families, friends, and colleagues at their funeral services and reminded us of the horror and utter waste of life.
This was not a depressing or sad play. It was illuminating, surprisingly funny, and deeply moving. The acting was sublime.
Like many New Yorkers, Joan had felt useless and wanted to help her city in any way. Writing the eulogies for Nick was her way to be involved in the recovery. The process was therapeutic for them both. Nick and Joan discover friendship and shared love for the spirit of their city.
Nick told her how there were lines of people wanting to help after 9/11. Organizers shouted at them, “Carpenters and plumbers to the front, intellectuals to the back!”
The audience was reminded that 350 bodies were unaccounted for after the twin towers fell and that some families held services without a body: “We have no idea the wonders that live in the people around us. People need to tell their stories.”
Once the standing ovation had ended, Wendie Malick thanked the audience for coming and said how she and Dan were “happy to support and pay tribute to this incredible theater and the work they do.” She urged the audience to support Theatricum, as well, by coming to see the 2019 summer repertory of plays that begin on June 1 and run through September.
Theatricum’s artistic director, Ellen Geer, thanked the actors and said it’s important to keep remembering and sharing stories.
Dan Lauria added, “It’s important to remember what firemen do for us.”
The event was a benefit for the year-round artistic and educational programming at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. A portion of the proceeds will also go to Los Angeles Fire Station 69, which serves Topanga and Pacific Palisades, and to Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s Station.n
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum 2019 summer season starts on June 1 with William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. For tickets and details of the five plays on offer and other events at Theatricum this summer. theatricum.com.