A handful of the more than 150 theatre artists who will come together for Brave New World—a three-day benefit performance at Town Hall designed to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11—gathered at a Chelsea studio space Aug. 1 to offer a selection of the volumes of material which will be presented next month.
Brave New World, planned for Sept. 9-11, was the brainchild of playwright J. Dakota Powell, who introduced the preview of three short plays and one song. According to Powell's associate, Erica Gould, Powell felt an immediate impulse to respond to Sept. 11 through her art. She soon discovered that many of her fellow artists felt the same way. The idea for Brave New World was born soon after.
Each one of the playwrights, composers, actors, singers and directors involved were personally invited to participate by Powell and Gould. Among those slated to take part are directors Gregory Mosher, John Rando, Lloyd Richards, Anne Bogart, Jim Simpson, Scott Ellis, Lisa Peterson, Marion McClinton; performers Matthew Broderick, Billy Crudup, Sigourney Weaver, Vanessa Williams, Mary Louise Parker, Stockard Channing, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella, Camryn Manheim, Bebe Neuwirth, Estelle Parsons, Ann Reinking, Chita Rivera, Marisa Tomei, Sam Waterston, Eve Ensler, Melissa Errico, Peter Gallagher, Janeane Garofalo, Donna Murphy, Harvey Keitel, Cynthia Nixon, Austin Pendleton, John Ritter, Mercedes Ruehl and Frank Wood; and playwrights and composers Christopher Durang, John Guare, Beth Henley, Tina Howe, David Henry Hwang, Arthur Kopit, Alan Menken, David Rabe, Alfred Uhry, Lanford Wilson and Stephen Sondheim.
The Chelsea presentation began with Thirty Fourth and Dyer by Lee Blessing, acted by Cynthia Nixon and Michael Potts. The play takes place on the street corner named in the title, where a freshly recruited (read: post-Sept. 11) police officer is trying to keep an eye out for suspicious characters. He is distracted, however, by a chatter of a teacher on her way to work. The talk begins in a friendly manner but it soon becomes clear that the woman has responded to the terrorist attack in a sad and frightening way.
Completely different from the naturalism of the Blessing work was Jose Rivera's Impact, a string of sentences spoken by Kristin Davis and Scott Cohen, who played a man and a women who have chosen to leap together from the burning World Trade Center. Each line in the poem-like piece proclaims an important "first" remembered by the seemingly serene suicides. ("The first birthday of your first child," "The first sunrise after the first death in a family," etc.) Rivera was inspired by the report of a couple who had leapt to their deaths on Sept. 11 while holding hands. (He wasn't the first. Last May, Downtown's Present Company staged Leslie Bramm's Lovers Leapt, inspired by the same story.) Playwright Frank Pugliese once temped as a janitor in the World Trade Center. His experiences informed his contribution, Late Night, Early Morning, starring Rosie Perez and Scott Cohen as two lonely, battered people waiting for a subway train after finishing their late-shift custodial jobs in the towers.
John Patrick Shanley, known for plays like Cellini, opted to write a song with Daniel Harnett for the event, "Alive." Orfeh sang the composition, which began with the lyrics: "Yesterday I woke up and the sun was gone/Yesterday I looked out and saw the storm/Yesterday I woke up in a world gone wrong/And I know I'm alive."
Erica Gould told Playbill On-Line that over 50 pieces will be presented at Town Hall, with each evening featuring a completely different line-up. The longest selection will last 20 minutes. Others will take only a couple minutes. Some plays will be staged in a rough form, with scripts held by actors. Others will be rehearsed and polished. "We want the plays to be considered," Gould said. "It won't be slapdash."
No short musicals were submitted, but several songs were written for the evenings.
The creators are well aware that two hours of cathartic Sept. 11 plays could prove shattering—or, at the very least, nerve-wracking—to a New York audience. Gould said the order of each night will be carefully ordered, with a balance of dramatic pieces, lighter material and music.
A tentative partial schedule runs as follows:
Monday, Sept. 9 at 8 PM:
"I Am Strong in the Face of Everything Except Nuclear War," a poem by Eve Ensler Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 8 PM:
Impact by Jose Rivera Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 8 PM:
Haiti by Keith Reddin All proceeds will benefit the New York Childrens Foundation, created to help children affected by 9/11. The name of the event is taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest, in which the young Miranda finds herself shipwrecked on an island and seeing her first site of men: "O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't!"
For more information visit www.bravenewworldarts.com or call (212) 252 3539.
Tickets to the event, are now on sale. Tickets run $35-$100. Call Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100.
—By Robert Simonson