by Raphael Badagliacca

The two words “Breaking News” appear on a screen at the opening moment of the play, reminding us of a time when they really meant something.  Then the two planes hit the two towers bringing them down, replaying for us the unthinkable.

Then the two actors take the stage – the remarkable pair of Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria.

“The Firefighter needs a Writer”… and so the story begins based on a true story.  Nick, a fire captain who has lost eight men in the towers confronts the weighty task of writing their eulogies only to come up with a blank page.

Stunned by events, Joan is almost equally stunned, like any writer would be, by the very idea of being needed, especially at such a critical juncture. The play tracks their interactions as Nick tells Joan about each of the eight guys and she helps him express his feelings.

As much as this play is about historical events and New York City, it is also about writing as a process of discovery — the alchemy of the right words — our only way to negotiate with the terms of loss.

“People need to tell their story,” Joan says, as if rediscovering for herself what drove her to become a writer.  She is a fictionalized version of Anne Nelson, the playwright, a war correspondent in El Salvador and Guatemala who currently teaches at the Columbia University School of Public and International Affairs.  Among her notable works is “Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler.” This was her first play, written less than three months after 9/11.

Joan/Anne tells us her story, beginning with a phenomenon highly recognizable to the New Yorkers in the audience — the out-of-towner who arrives in the city and feels at home for the first time.  Now her adopted home has been wrenched away from her by events.

But her loss is much less than Nick’s which is studded with memories and particulars about the lost men.  She bridges the gap with words, visibly moved herself by the effort.  In full uniform dress, in his turn, he brings the written words to life, heroic in his role — what else, after all, is an actor?

Dan Lauria and Wendie Malick are excellent as always, heartfelt in their chemistry, convincing even where they find humor — the true test — despite the seriousness of the subject matter.

The actors’ motivations are as admirable as their art.  This one-night performance was a fund- raiser in support of the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration.  As Michael Abrams, Executive Director of the Center, reported in the Q&A session that followed the play, Columbia University School of General Studies has provided educational opportunities to 500 veterans who have done tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than the combined offerings of universities across the country.

The Guys by Anne Nelson

with Dan Lauria and Wendie Malick