Among the New York City theatres hardest hit by Sept. 11 was The Bat Theatre Company, located in the Flea Theatre on White Street in Tribeca, just blocks from Ground Zero. When the city closed off Manhattan south of 14th Street for several days, audiences were kept from the Bat. And since reopening, the theatre, run by artistic director Jim Simpson, has been struggling with audiences hovering around the five percent capacity mark.
The Bat hopes to reattract absent theatregoers with its next offering: a new play called The Guys starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray, will have its debut in the small downtown space. The run will consist of nine workshop performances beginning Dec. 6 and running through Dec. 20, all at 7 PM. Simpson will direct. The show will then return in January for another run.
The Guys will address a topic well known to Simpson, Weaver (Simpson's wife) and the staff at the Bat: the events of and following Sept. 11. Murray will play a fire captain who talks with Weaver, an editor, about the men he lost during the World Trade Center attack. Together, they struggle to compose eulogies for the lost firemen.
The Guys is the first play of Anne Nelson, the author of several books and a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Some days after Sept. 11, Jim Simpson was sitting next to Nelson at a benefit dinner for a human rights organization. Earlier, a member of Simpson's repertory company had suggested the Bat Theatre do a play which addressed the recent tragedies. Simpson asked Nelson if she'd give it a try, and the writer spent the next week fashioned the play that became The Guys. She turned it in, Simpson read it and scheduled it with 48 hours.
Soon after, Weaver — who, since Sept. 11, has acted as an unofficial spokesperson for the theatre, though she has not been available for interview about the current project — expressed a desire to play the part of the editor. She then gave her sometime film co-star Bill Murray a call to play the other part. "I really believe theatre can nourish us during this time and that The Guys can illuminate some of what we're going through," said Weaver in a prepared statement distributed to the press. "Frankly, as a New Yorker I jumped at the chance to be part of this." "It's ironic that when the Flea found itself threatened that we re discovered our ability to respond in an immediate and direct fashion," added Simpson in the same press release. The Flea is located a mere seven blocks from Ground Zero. The theatre, hosting five plays prior to Sept. 11, was forced to close for nearly three weeks. Upon reopening, attendance plummeted from 90 percent to 5 percent.
Weaver has stepped forward in recent weeks as a spokesperson of sorts for the Bat. She last appeared on stage in Christopher Durang's short-lived Sex and Longing on Broadway. Murray is the world famous comic star of such films as "Meatballs," "Stripes," "Scrooged," and "Tootsie." In recent years, he has been applauded as a serious actor for his character work in "Hamlet," "Groundhog Day" and "Rushmore." Weaver and Murray worked together in "Ghostbusters."
Simpson has directed such plays as Demonology, Him, Baal and a goodly number of Mac Wellman plays, including the recent Cleveland. He founded the Bat in the mid-80s with Wellman and a few others. Past Bat productions include Benten Kozo, Bedfellows, Karen Finley's The Return of the Chocolate-Smeared Woman and Sincerity Forever.
The Bat has two spaces: a flexible ground floor theatre, and a recently opened, smaller basement space.
Tickets for The Guys are $15. For information, call (212) 226 2407.
—By Robert Simonson