Based on true events, The Guys tells the story of a fire captain who lost many of his men in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. MyNorth Media entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau spoke with William Church, director of theatre at Interlochen Center for the Arts, who plays the fire captain in the upcoming Interlochen stage event.
The horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, found people stunned and grieving. That was particularly true for those who lost family members and friends, such as many first responders.
The Guys was written in response to the attacks. It is centered on Nick, a fire captain, who seeks out the help of a writer to compose eulogies for the colleagues and friends he lost in the attacks. Joan, an editor by trade, draws Nick out about “the guys” he’d worked with and lost. Interlochen faculty members William Church, director of theatre at Interlochen Center for the Arts, plays Nick, while Laura Mittelstaedt, instructor of theatre arts at Interlochen Arts Academy, portrays Joan.
Church says the events of September 11, 2001, have had a lasting effect on everyone who was around then, though as the years go by, younger people have grown up in the shadow of those events, rather than a before and after. “This is a moment—where were you when it happened? It’s now 15 years. This is the first time we’ll be bringing in students born after 9/11,” Church says. For those students, the terrorist attacks are a given. “It’s a part of their lives.”
The genesis of the play is a story in itself. Located just blocks from Ground Zero, the Flea Theater was a small off-Broadway venue with a repertory group and a zeal for taking risks. Its motto is “raising a joyful hell in a small space.” That space became nearly empty following 9/11. Reopening two weeks after the attacks, its attendance plummeted from 90 percent to 5 percent.
When director and co-founder Jim Simpson was challenged by one of the members of his troupe to present a play that could address the attacks in a way the audience could engage with, he was unable to find anything. Until one night when he was seated next to writer Anne Nelson at a benefit dinner for a human rights organization. They discussed the challenge, and though Nelson had never written a play before, she agreed to try to weave various experiences and ideas relating to the attack into a play that would address the theater’s needs.
The result was The Guys. Sigourney Weaver—Simpson’s wife—played one of the two roles, and recruited her friend Bill Murray to play the other. It debuted at The Flea on December 4, 2001. A film starring Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, who had also stepped in at times for an absent Murray in the theatrical version, garnered Weaver a Golden Satellite Award nomination. The recorded version, which featured Bill Irwin and Swoosie Kurtz, won an Audie Award for best recorded play of the year. It has since been presented in 48 states and in the Czech Republic, Argentina, Japan, Italy and Poland.
Church says while the content of the play is sad, there are moments of brightness as well. “It’s a heavy topic, but there is some humor, some sunny stories. I think the author did a beautiful job. This play calls attention to how we all process grief, from the fire captain who lost his men to the artist who finds a way of expressing that pain through words or images.”
Mittelstaedt says the relationship that forms between the two characters, as well as between them and the audience, allows an exploration of more than just sadness. “The play contains humor, inspiration, insight and ultimately resilience, and is a unique piece of theatre.”
Church is also enjoying the opportunity to be onstage rather than telling others how to do it. “It’s fun to be acting again. I haven’t done it since The Tempest (at the Interlochen Shakespeare Festival in 2014). It’s important as acting instructors we get up there,” he says, noting Interlochen students will be among the audience. “I’m more nervous about them (seeing me),” he says with a laugh.
“I really believe theater can nourish us during this time and that The Guys can illuminate some of what we’re all going through. Frankly, as a New Yorker, I jumped at the chance to be part of this. It’s an amazing play.” – Sigourney Weaver
“Theater can be immediate and its obligation is to be more than escapist. It should offer an opportunity for the community to come together to encounter the catastrophe on human terms.” – Jim Simpson
Harvey Theatre, Interlochen Center for the Arts
Date & Time
September 9 & 10, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25. Go to Tickets.Interlochen.org
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