Perth’s theatre scene is full of enterprising people who want to work on creatively fulfilling projects that allow them to produce cutting-edge works, maintain artistic control, and provide Perth audiences with quality, unique productions. Cicely Binford takes an up-close look at some of the ‘independents’ in Perth and their steadfast commitment for producing exciting theatrical works of superior quality for Perth audiences.
Twelve years ago this month New York City firefighters were called to duty for an unthinkable disaster. A third of all New York City Fire Department (FDNY) companies were dispatched to go into battle against time at the World Trade Center and 343 individual firefighters never made it back. One of the ways in which New York came to grips with this horrible tragedy was to put on a play. Anne Nelson wrote The Guys in just nine days and it debuted off-off-Broadway at the Flea Theatre on 4 December 2001, just three months after the attacks.
The two characters in the play, Nick (an FDNY captain) and Joan (a journalist), were performed by Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver and subsequent Nicks and Joans have been played by Anthony Lapaglia (the show’s first Australian connection) and Susan Sarandon; Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon; and Tim Robbins and Helen Hunt. But it’s not just the big-name stars who are keeping this show alive and helping it to reach new corners of the globe; it’s the beautifully written story itself that still touches audiences,and the gentle force of Nelson’s words reminding us of the strength and self-sacrifice these first responders were capable of.
Now a civilian first responder from Down Under is bringing this story to his hometown of Perth, in the Australian premiere of The Guys. Adam T Perkins was in New York City on that harrowing day, preparing to leave for a short stay in Connecticut, when he heard the news of what had just happened at the first tower. He grabbed his overnight bag and made his way from his place in Chelsea down to Ground Zero, passing through a couple of checkpoints, citing his first aid training to get him through.
He made it to Stuyvesant High School, which is about two blocks from the site, and helped to set up a triage center at the evacuated school. Over the next few days he worked his way closer, to Liberty Plaza where he was a runner for the medical teams that had set up operations in the area. He slept on a cot inside the lobby of the building, cleaned out the eyes of the cops and firefighters, chatted to them as they went about their daunting work. Eventually Adam joined the “bucket brigade”, carting buckets of debris from the site and went under “the pile”, tunnelling below the wreckage. He believes he was at Ground Zero for what must have been five or six days, but he can’t be sure, “it all blurred together”, he said.
Eventually a sense of normality would return to the city; eventually Adam would return home to Perth and eventually he would decide to produce this play and perform the role of Nick. He teamed up with Paula Coops after their successful collaboration in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in May of 2013 and brought Anna Bennetts on board to play the role of Joan.
Anna recently had her own New York connection to this play: she met the playwright in New York City, in the very same Starbucks Anne Nelson mentions in the show. Anna said Nelson approved of her as Joan, and that she felt a strong sympathy with the author upon their meeting, to the extent that Nelson seemed almost like another version of herself. Nelson offered Anna advice about the play, saying that her opening monologue should be welcoming and light, as if she were inviting the audience into her parlor. She said a lot of the advice Nelson gave her reinforced the decisions that she, Adam, and Paula had made about the piece. How rare and special for an actor to have confirmation from the playwright herself about the choices they’ve made and the direction the work is headed, especially given the immense physical distance separating Anna the actor and Anne the playwright?
One thing that Anna brought up about the play is the odd coincidences that seem to happen around it when companies produce the show; people who’ve worked on it before say it’s “The Guys” playing funny pranks on those involved. For instance at the Starbucks mentioned in the show, Joan describes how the server at the counter hands her change and says, “God Bless America.” This is highly unusual behaviour for New York; nobody says “God bless” in New York, they might offend someone. When Anna was approaching this very same Starbucks to meet Nelson, she held the door open for an elderly woman with a walker, the woman turned to Anna and said, “God bless.”
Coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s because of things like this, where life and art begin to cross over and blend, that theatre makers come to appreciate how truly extraordinary and transformative their work can be.
It can even help to heal a wounded city.
The Guys by Anne Nelson
September 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14
Doors at 7:00
Curtain at 7:30
The Black Box at “The Crafty Swine”, 8 McEwan Stree, West Leederville
Tickets: $35 full, $25 concession, $55 for September 11 benefit show
Contact: [email protected]