After the devastation of 9/11, some wondered if live theater would ever return to New York.
During the pandemic, some voiced the same thought.
As the Vortex Theatre returns to virtual production Friday, Sept. 10, its director finds several parallels between what happened on that crisp autumn day and the current mask on/mask off/mask on shifts amid COVID-19.
The Vortex will perform “The Guys,” Anne Nelson’s play about a fire captain who enlists a journalist to write eulogies for eight men lost in the World Trade Center attacks. Nelson turned the play into a fundraiser to help the victims.
“After watching another group of first responders care for victims of all ages, races and creeds during the pandemic, it felt absolutely right to remember those lost on Sept. 11, 20 years ago,” director Marc Comstock said.
The play opens with New Yorkers still in shock less than two weeks after the attacks. An editor named Joan receives an unexpected phone call on behalf of Nick, a fire captain, who lost most of his men in the disaster. He’s looking for a writer to help him with the eulogies he must present at their memorial services. In the process of writing the memorials, Nick and Joan discover possibilities of friendship in each other and their shared love for the unconquerable spirit of the city.
“The Guys” is based on a true story. Nelson closely based the character of Joan on herself.
“As we come upon the 20th anniversary, it’s really important that we honor that,” Comstock said. “Twenty years ago it was current. Now it’s kind of a memory play.
“Nick has to deal with his own grief, but he has to lead his family and the guys that are still there,” he continued. “Joan struggles with, ‘Is this enough?’ Nick says, ‘Yes, these are your tools.’ ”
Comstock is using the music of Bruce Springsteen’s post-9/11 album “The Rising” to open the play. The songs resonate with feelings of loss, horror and hope.
“But we did come out of 9/11; we grew and we did this together,” Comstock said. “The music takes us back to that mindset without taking us over the edge. It can’t be only doom and gloom. And (Springsteen’s) music has some hope in it.”