In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, Flea artistic director Jim Simpson found himself sitting next to author and Columbia Graduate School professor Anne Nelson at a benefit dinner for a human rights organization. Keeping in mind a suggestion from a Bat Theatre Company member to do a play which addressed the recent tragedies, Simpson asked Nelson if she'd give it a try. The first-time playwright spent the next week fashioning the play that became The Guys. She turned it in, Simpson read it and scheduled it within 48 hours.
The Guys, based on Nelson's real experiences, is a dialogue between a fire captain — who has lost most of his men in the Sept. 11 attack — and an editor who helps him write the eulogies as she struggles herself to come to terms with the event. Both find out, as quoted from the script, "We have no idea what wonders lie hidden in the people around us."
The Guys was workshopped at the Flea Theatre in Tribeca in December 2001 and returned January 2002 with stars Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver (Simpson's wife). The production would continue for 159 performances with a rotating cast of stars that included Bill Irwin, Anthony LaPaglia, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Swoosie Kurtz, Amy Irving, Tom Wopat, Carol Kane, Stephen Lang, Marlo Thomas, Polly Draper, Terrence Mann, Peggy Lipton and Dan Lauria. Tim Cummings and Irene Walsh were the continuous understudies for the entire run.
The 9/11 drama spawned productions across the country (including Los Angeles' Actors' Gang and Chicago's Goodman), at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as a feature film (with Weaver and LaPaglia) and a Random House book.
The Flea Theatre, which is home to the Bat Theatre Company, was among the New York City theatres hardest hit by Sept. 11, located 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 Off-Off-Broadway venue. The Guys revived audience patronage of the venue. For tickets to The Guys at N-YHS, 2 West 77th Street (at Central Park West), call (212) 873-3400 ext. 269. Admission is $15. Some seats have been reserved for honored guests from the NYFD, NYPD, their families and the families of the victims of 9/11. For more information, visit www.nyhistory.org.