For the men
After the recent dry-lightning storms and subsequent wildfires in areas such as Verdi, we should be showering extra thanks on those members of our community who protect our homes and our lives whenever the need arises.
“A lot of times [firefighters] are invisible to society until there’s a crisis, and suddenly they’re risking their lives,” says Anne Nelson, playwright of The Guys, “so a lot of communities have used [my play] as a way to thank their own local firefighters for being there.”
Anne Nelson was a seasoned journalist when the attacks on the World Trade Center shook the country. At the time, she was teaching at Colombia University and didn’t think it was within her power to offer assistance to those who needed help—until she heard about a fire captain who was struggling to compose the eulogies for the men at his station who had died trying to save the lives of others. She helped the captain, who remains anonymous to this day, bring his feelings and emotions to paper; shortly thereafter, Nelson wrote The Guys, a two-person play based upon their exchanges.
Nelson never expected her play to be performed or published; it was just something she had to say. The play has since been staged by professional and amateur companies across the United States, featuring such actors as Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Robbins, Helen Hunt, Anthony LaPaglia, Swoosie Kurtz, the list goes on.
“I’ve seen wonderful amateur productions,” Nelson says. “One that blew me away was performed by a fire chief in Hastings, Neb. It wasn’t just the first play he’d been in, he’d never seen a play before—he wanted to do it for his brothers in New York.”
Many firefighters have seen The Guys, and the most validating statement that both Nelson and actress Adele Robbins (for the Reno performance she’ll play Joan, the character Nelson based upon herself) have heard from them is that “the guys” at their own stations are just like those who the fire captain in the play, Nick, eulogizes about.
Robbins, who saw the piece several times before she knew she would star in it later as a member of The Actors’ Gang company in Hollywood, says that it’s often an extremely cathartic experience for audiences.
“There was a great release for me when I saw the play that allowed me to grieve in a way that I hadn’t really before,” Robbins says. “In the same way that when a relative dies there’s that mix of the humor and the shared memories and laughing … that was the experience of the play.”
Actors’ Gang regular P. Adam Walsh, who will be playing Nick for the Reno show, appreciated how tastefully the play addressed the devastation of 9/11.
“My first reaction to it wasn’t necessarily a political reaction or a visceral reaction,” Walsh says. “My first reaction was I really enjoyed the simplicity of it, the simplicity of the storytelling, the simplicity of the two actors on stage interacting with each other.”
Nelson couldn’t have imagined how relevant her play would still be almost three years after 9/11, not as a piece of political theater but as a witness to humanity and human resiliency—and as a historical marker to evidence how we got where we are today.
“I just got a message from Kobe, Japan," Nelson says, "and they wanted to do the play a year after the earthquake as a way for people to deal with working through tragedy."