Those who saw Michigan State University Theatre Department’s “Two 9/11 Plays” in September may find “The Guys” to be slow and sedate. In actuality the pieces complement each other well. The MSU plays were fast-paced, chaotic vignettes, which captured the immediate impact on a broad swath of people. “The Guys” deals with the short-term impact on just two people, which personalizes the emotional aftermath.
This two-character, one-act play is the autobiographical story of writer Anne Nelson’s attempt to make sense of the violent act that forever changed her world and ours.
Nelson’s alter-ego, Joan (LeAnn Dethlefsen), grieves vicariously through the captain of a fire company who asks her to help write eulogies for his lost men, his “guys.”
The situation is at once personal and universal. Joan is mired in an emotional stasis, having no outlet to express the overwhelming sense of impotency in the wake of the attacks. Nick (Rick Dethlefsen) can openly express his feelings, but he can’t put them into the kind of polite language that might offer comfort to others.
LeAnn Dethlefsen’s approach to the role at first makes Joan seem cold and distant. As she introduces herself and gives her background, she comes across as something of a pampered, privileged New Yorker, a humorless professional woman.
Conversely, Rick Dethlefsen’s captain Nick is unabashedly emotional. Nick is as soft as Joan is stiff. As the two work through the eulogies, Joan’s defensive walls crumble and she finds an outlet for her feelings.
The script is elegantly written, poignant without being sappy.
As Joan points out, in no other reality, under no other circumstances would her life have intersected with Nick’s. Yet because of the terrorist attacks, the two meet, learn from each other, grieve together and start the very slow healing process.
Director Joseph Dickson made a wise choice with “The Guys” for the premiere production of the new Over the Ledge Theater Co.
The intimate black box space at Holt High School allows a play with a small cast, little action and a big emotional impact to captivate an audience. On opening night, more than a few sniffles could be heard in the audience, and they weren’t due to colds or flu.
While they are a couple in real life, the Dethlefsens do a fantastic job of portraying strangers who slowly warm to each other.
As the narrator, LeAnn Dethlefsen carries the brunt of the work. She transitions seamlessly between addressing the audience and returning to her scene with Nick, and she illustrates well the physical and emotional toll of living with the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.
Perhaps an intentional play on words, the loss of the titular “Guys” is symbolic of the loss of the guise of safety and security under which the United States had existed for so long.
As she joins “the witnesses of the world” in the wake of 9/11, Joan stands in for us all in coming to that realization.