Those Were the Days

An entertaining look back at Gaslight Square, and a dated take on 9/11

"People need to tell their stories!" she exclaims, and while I wouldn't deny this human truth, I would point out that watching someone tell a story to someone else isn't inherently interesting. While this talky, low-key play may have been precisely what was needed in the aftermath of 9/11, its lack of plot is a serious flaw today. The one theatrical moment in the play is a kind of dream ballet, where Joan and Nick connect in a surprising way and the potential of a new kind of relationship piques our interest. But too quickly they return to the formulaic interview-style dialogue and the detailing of other people's lives.

The actors inhabit their roles believably. When Flynn enters, a vacant stare in his eyes, his manila file folders clutched to his chest, we sense the maelstrom of emotions lurking beneath the surface. His understated performance is excellent and is contrasted nicely by Steinau's take-charge portrayal of Joan. Both actors are at their best in the final scene, a tennis match of alternating speeches, with Flynn in full-dress uniform on one side reading a eulogy and Steinau on the other side trying to make a bargain with God.

I feel a bit un-American criticizing a play about firefighters and 9/11. And because each person copes in her or his own way and time, it may be that this play is still therapeutic for some. I kept thinking: I remember when I felt like that, but I don't feel that way any more. Joan tells us that when she asked a friend whether life would ever return to normal, her friend replied, "Yes, but normal will be different." We're in that different normal now, where shoe inspections are a natural part of pre-flight activity, where being under a yellow terrorism alert seems like just another autumn day. The Guys reminds us of when the wounds were raw, when our outrage was fresh. As a historical document, it's important. It's a reminder of who we were then. But it doesn't raise any fresh insights or questions.

Margeau Steinau and Rory Flynn in The Guys, a theatrical response to 9/11
Margeau Steinau and Rory Flynn in The Guys, a theatrical response to 9/11


Cool and Hip: Gaslight Square- By Joe Dreyer. Performed by Historyonics Theatre Company through September 28 at the Des Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, DeBaliviere and Lindell. Call 314-361-5858.

The Guys- By Anne Nelson. Performed by Barfly Theater through September 28 at Panama Red's Café & Saloon, 1909 Locust. Call 314-842-6684.

Barfly Theatre has taken a risk by presenting this serious play in a bar setting, and they've clearly worked hard to create a quality production. As we watched the play, laughter and shouts from the bar downstairs were heard. The characters onstage were grappling with ultimate questions of life and death while the patrons downstairs were cheering the Cards. Life has indeed gone on.

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