Sept. 11 drama opens Thursday at Moline’s Black Box Theatre

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“The Guys” will open Thursday at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.

Two days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Moline’s Black Box Theatre will open the two-person drama “The Guys” by Anne Nelson.

The Black Box Theatre, 1623 5th Ave., Moline, is presenting the play Sept. 9-12 to honor the heroism of first responders on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The hijackings of four jet airliners that Tuesday morning led to the deaths of 2,977 people, including 412 emergency workers who responded to the World Trade Center in New York City (343 of whom were firefighters).

Based on a true story, in “The Guys,” it’s less than two weeks after the September 11th attacks, and New Yorkers are still in shock. One of them, an editor named Joan, receives an unexpected phone call on behalf of Nick, a fire captain who has lost most of his men in the attack. He’s looking for a writer to help him with the eulogies he must present at their memorial services.

Nick and Joan spend a long afternoon together, recalling the fallen men through recounting their virtues and their foibles, and fashioning the stories into memorials of words. In the process, Nick and Joan discover the possibilities of friendship in each other and their shared love for the unconquerable spirit of the city. As they make their way through the emotional landscape of grief, they draw on humor, tango, the appreciation of craft in all its forms—and the enduring bonds of common humanity.

The Black Box production will star Jim Harris as Nick. Harris, a born and raised New Yorker who moved to the Quad Cities three years ago, has an especially close relationship to the day as he watched the towers fall and discovered that his publishing partner’s son had been on the 102nd floor of WTC’s Tower One. Harris was last seen at the Black Box in “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

Playing Joan is Jennifer Cook Gregory, who recently appeared in “Guys and Dolls” at First Presbyterian Church in Davenport, and will appear in “Company,” scheduled for October at The Black Box.  “The Guys” is being directing and designed by Lora Adams, BBT co-founder and co-owner.

New York City’s Bat Theatre Company was a little-known Off-Off Broadway troupe headed up by artistic director Jim Simpson (husband of actress Sigourney Weaver). In December 2001, when the theater was still struggling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the company — just blocks from Ground Zero — workshopped “The Guys,” penned by first-time playwright Anne Nelson. The play — which became a full production — revitalized the little company with its big-name casts.

The New York casts of “The Guys” have included Bill Murray, Weaver, Bill Irwin, Anthony LaPaglia, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Swoosie Kurtz, Tom Wopat, Amy Irving, Carol Kane, Marlo Thomas and Stephen Lang. The Los Angeles production has featured Robbins, Helen Hunt, Sarandon, Philip Baker Hall, Jeanne Tripplehorn, David Hyde Pierce and Glenne Headley. Robbins and Sarandon also performed the work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Critics have called “The Guys” a “straight-from-the-gut beautifully written two-hander…laughter is heard as often as sobs.” (CurtainUp.com); “The kind of quiet hybrid that the situation and the times—an era of a million pithy sound bites, booming rhetoric, and the numbing repetition of the CNN loop that followed the attacks—seemed to demand…A small jewel of a play.” (Chicago Tribune); “Ms. Nelson’s play…gives credible and powerful voice to a very specific kind of pain…perhaps the keenest message to emerge from THE GUYS is the assertion that writers—and actors—have a serious role to play in a grieving society.” (New York Times); “A generous, sad, touching play about the braveries of grief.” (NY Post)

The show will run Sept. 9, 10, and 11 at 7:30 p.m., and Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $13 Thursday and $16 all other performances. Due to new Covid restrictions, patrons are required to wear masks and actors will be in face shields.

For tickets and more information, visit theblackboxtheatre.com.

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