A Short Play About 9/11 by Workhaus Collective

Laurel Armstrong in A Short Play About 9/11. Photo by Richard Fleischman.

Nine-eleven.  It’s no longer just a date, it’s code, for an impossible-to-describe national catastrophe.

Even at this remove nine-eleven remains a series of jangled images: a jet plane slamming into a tall building.  Conservatively dressed businessmen hurtling to their deaths (those flapping ties!).   And, of course, the collapse, massive buildings grinding to the ground in a cloud of poisonous dust, with thousands of people trapped inside.  Nine-eleven turned the national identity into a blur, like an arrival/departure sign at a busy airport.  How are we supposed to react to an event like this?  What kind of country will we become?  The sign, even ten years later, still spins.

Dominic Orlando‘s funny and frightening A Short Play About 9/11 (Workhaus Collective, through 9/24) is set in early October 2001 when the identity-whirl caused by the attacks is just beginning.  The characters all suffer from some level of post-traumatic stress: the TV comic compelled to make offensively unfunny jokes; his super-model girlfriend with her two hundred dollar haircut who just wants to “support our boys”; the successful émigré businessman making millions creating weaponized germs (and carrying them in a small plastic vodka bottle); the lonely owner of an upscale boutique.  The characters are quickly and vividly drawn.  Orlando (who directs as well as writes) is a deft writer.  The play’s structure – five short and fast-paced scenelets followed by a longer, more languid and exploratory final scene in Union Square – works very well.

The play contains a brilliant character: the lost “Girl”.  The trauma of nine-eleven has zapped her memory.  She wanders the city, innocent, seeing and yet at the same time blind.  There is a beautiful scene between her and her mother, struggling to find a way to deal with her daughter’s amnesia.  The Girl is vivid in her own right and is at the same time a perfect nine-eleven symbol.  Laurel Armstrong plays her perfectly, defensive but with heartbreaking openness.  Her sweet smile in the last scene amazes.  A lovely performance, well worth the (modest) admission price.

The other actors are also strong.  David Hanbury excels as Leo, the smart TV comic at a loss to explain his anger.  Carin Leonard-Gorrill is beautiful in the dual roles of the Girl’s mother and Leo’s girlfriend.  The excellent Craig Johnson also plays two roles and I’ve never seen him so brittle and so funny.  As Dr. Bracken, Luverne Seiffert does wonders with a character who could, in lesser hands, become hard-to-define and diffuse.

Be forewarned that A Short Play About 9/11 is done a la Ten Thousand Things: no stage lights, just the harsh fluorescents at the Playwrights Center.  I enjoyed this; I’m a TTT fan and imo the lack of stage lighting puts the emphasis where it belongs, on the acting.  But this may not be to everyone’s liking.  Paul Herwig has constructed a very minimal setting and Kelsey Glasener created good costumes.


For more info about John Olive please visit his website.


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