Downtown theaters revisit 9/11 works

Steve Fetter tells his story of 9/11, in “A Blue Sky Like No Other.” Photo courtesy of the artist and Baruch Performing Arts Center

Flea, 3LD, HERE, Access all still here

BY TRAV S.D.  |  I’d like to forego the normally flip, jocose tone of this column to note that this month our memories of September 11 will pass the decade mark. Unlike most of the billions of people throughout the globe who’ll be marking this anniversary, readers of these pages likely won’t be doing so with something like dim reflections of a distant past. For the people of Downtown Manhattan, there are important respects in which this event hasn’t ever really gone away. After all, the former Ground Zero is still a construction site. The Deutsche Bank Building only recently finished coming down. The new Downtown transit hub isn’t expected to be complete until 2014. But there are some other, more positive continuities. Ten years ago, I covered the impact of the attack on the theatrical community for “American Theatre” magazine. Back then, there was real doubt whether small Downtown theatres like 3LD, HERE Arts Center and the Flea would survive. Guess what? They’re all still here.

Perhaps the most surprising success story has been 3LD Arts and Technology Center (formerly known as Three Legged Dog). They were the only theatre company whose facilities were literally wiped out in the disaster, when their old headquarters at 30 Broadway suffered structural damage and had to be demolished.

Within five years, they fought their way back with a deluxe state-of-the-art facility at 80 Greenwich Street — so close to the World Trade Center that their actors drink at the same bars as the Ground Zero hard hats. Last year there was some difficulty with the rent, but they seem to have jumped even that hurdle. Their most recent production was the annual Ice Factory festival, put on by SoHo Think Tank, yet another recently displaced theatre (which will soon be making its home on Christopher Street). 3LD’s next announced work is “Paris Orgy” — a collaboration with playwright Charles Mee, promising the company’s trademark technological bells and whistles and slated for later this year.

Back in late 2001, when the Downtown “pile” was still smoldering, the Flea Theater (on White Street) presented “The Guys” — a play by Columbia journalism professor Anne Nelson, starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray. The play was a two-hander about a journalist and a fireman coming to terms with their grief about 9/11 in very different ways. Written just weeks after the events, the play’s appeal was its raw, unprocessed “rapid response” quality. It was a smash hit that ran for a year, was produced by other theatres all over the country and was made into a feature film. This September, the Flea revives the play with Weaver reprising her role, and Tom Wopat taking the role originated by Murray. There are three official performances: a special show at Goldman Sachs on September 6 for invited guests; a matinee performance the following day at the Museum of Jewish Heritage that will be open to the public; and a third show on September 9 that will star two understudies from the Flea’s resident acting company, The Bats. For information and tickets, go to theflea.org.

HERE Arts Center (located just above the Tribeca border, on Sixth Avenue) is another venue close enough to have been hit hard by 9/11. The theatre had responded in the early weeks with a town hall meeting that allowed theatre artists to share their grief and anger. Several years later, the theatre had done the seemingly impossible by mounting a capital campaign and buying their own space — securing their future as a Downtown arts anchor. On September 7, they will open a revival of Rehana Lew Mirza’s play “Barriers” — about a Chinese/Pakistani American family that disintegrates when one of its members is killed in the 9/11 attacks. The play premiered at HERE in the months after the attacks; a re-worked version opens there again in time for the anniversary. For ticket info go to here.org.

The Hudson River waterfront was not only the site of 9/11’s hair-raising evacuation, but has long been a spot for public performances as well. On September 8, Compagnia de’ Columbari will present their music theatre adaptation of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (entitled “More or Less I Am”) at Pier 46, Hudson River Park. The patriotic piece will perform at various venues throughout the city, culminating at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn on September 11. For more information, go to colombari.org.

On Lower Broadway (just a few blocks above Trinity Church), the Access Theater was among those that suffered a steep decline in ticket sales because of its proximity to the site. They managed to hang on however, and the 4-story walk-up (jokingly referred to by some as the “Inaccessible Theatre”) is doing as well as ever. On September 15, they open “The Birthday Boys” — a play by Aaron Kozak about three U.S. Marines who have been captured by insurgents in Iraq. A hit of last year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, this production promises to mix the terror up with an unlikely dose of humor. At least that’s what the West Coast critics say (a likely story). Information is available at arteffectstheatre.org.

Further Uptown, Theater for the New City became a major center for the anti-war movement after 9/11, especially during the darkest years of the Iraq War — mounting several plays relevant to issues of war, peace, tolerance and homeland security. On September 16, they open “Point of Departure” (presented by Smoke and Mirrors Collaborative). The highly physical movement piece satirizes the ordeal of the modern experience of dealing with the indignities of airport travel in the post-9/11 era. More information can be found at theaterforthenewcity.net.

Baruch Performing Arts Center in Kips’ Bay will be presenting “A Blue Sky Like No Other” — written and performed by Steve Fetter, September 7-25. A non-actor, his piece is an autobiographical, first hand account of what Fetter (a utility consultant) witnessed at the World Trade Center that day. This production is the winner of an Eisenhower Fellowship, and proceeds will be donated to families of firefighters who died on September 11. More details at baruch.cuny.edu/bpac.

Lastly, September 8-11, the Group Theatre Too will be presenting the play “New York” (by Pulitzer Prize finalist David Rimmer) at Hudson Guild. The play premiered in 2002, and was originally written to raise money for volunteer psychiatrists who were helping New Yorkers cope with the after effects of 9/ 11. It depicts several New Yorkers recounting their traumatic experiences to a psychiatrist. A portion of the proceeds will go to September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. More information can be found at grouptheatretoo.biz.