Remember where you were on September 11, 2001 when the (World Trade Center) twin towers were hit? Of course you do. Just as, if you’re old enough, you remember where you were when you heard President Kennedy was shot. Author Brian Sloan had a two bedroom apartment with a clear view of the tragedy. The day before, Sloan placed an internet ad looking for a roommate. He was shocked to find that starting the 12th, people wanted to come down and see it. Sloan kept a journal including transcriptions of some of the phone messages he received. In 2003, his play WTC View had its premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival. This production is a revival.
Sounds of sirens, fire trucks; an answering machine: “Tuesday, 8:49 a.m.” Eric’s friends want to be sure he’s all right. He’s not picking up. There’s no sign of him. “Wednesday, 10:31 a.m.” a response to his ad comes in. Eight preceded it. A skinny, gay, tee-shirted man in his thirties, Eric (Nick Lewis) opens a window in the almost bare room, coughs, and closes it. He’s nervous, distracted, smoking. The apartment is too expensive to afford on his own. He broke up with his partner, unwilling to cohabit. A former roommate is evidenced only by still unsealed cartons.
Prospective replacements include Jeremy (Bob Braswell), Kevin (Michael Carlsen), Jeff (Torsten Hillhouse), Alex (Patrick Edward O’Brian), and Max (Martin Edward Cohen), as well as others we don’t see. Each man has been affected by the disaster in a different way; some passively—accidentally making a personal connection, losing a job, others actively—changing plans and outlook. Through a series of meet ‘n greets, we watch them attempt to secure new footing. Best friend, Josie, the epitome of an Upper East Side girl, fills in story gaps in Eric’s life while dealing with very different “fall-out.”
In shaky, self-denial of his own very intimate and traumatic experience, Eric functions the best he can. Reference to the all pervasive nature of the incident builds from incidental street directions “If you look for the Empire State Building, that’s uptown, and downtown is—not” to comments “it smells like a barbecued computer out there” and paranoid reactions. One roommate applicant has purposefully returned to New York just as others flee. “It’s like there was a death in the family,” he explains. Another has literally survived.
WTC View is well written. Sloan has an ear for dialogue and fine powers of observation. Unfortunately, it’s so contrived, it feels like an academic thesis. Each character is a type illustrating a reaction. My companion commented he could easily imagine a commercial between segments. At almost two hours without intermission, it could productively be cut, perhaps increasing the impact of Eric’s emotional journey.
Nick Lewis (Eric) convincingly plays lonely, confused, stubborn, anxious, paranoid and hysterical. He does less well acting as if the worst of these emotions were bubbling just below the surface. Michael Carlsen (Kevin) handles the role of an amiable wrong-side-of-the-Hudson tough guy, as if he grew up with the type. His attention to details of swagger, speech, and particularly the timing of both, makes Kevin credible.
Thorsten Hillhouse’s Jeff might’ve walked off the set of The West Wing or out of the governor’s mansion. His brisk, forthright, confident, ever so slightly world-weary manner is solid, naturalistic performance. Patrick Edward O’Brien (Alex), a young Rod Taylor look alike, has more meat on which to chew. Alex is the most interesting character but also the least apparent. His cool, smooth persona manages the upheaval in his life. It’s to the actor’s credit we find Alex sympathetic as well as believable.
Director Andrew Volkoff makes the most of a small set. Movement and pacing are realistic.Though a few more specifics might’ve drawn us closer to the characters, the same might be asked of the script. Scenes with Eric and Alex are sensitively conceived. Eric’s detonation is pithy and effective. Voice messages have just the right tone. Jacob A. Climer’s Costumes are spot-on distinctive to character definition.
Photos by Carol Rosegg, from top:
1. Nick Lewis
2. Leah Curney and Nick Lewis
3. Nick Lewis and Patrick Edward O’Brien
WTC View by Brian Sloan
Part of Americas Off Broadway
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
E9E59 Street Theaters
59 east 59th Street
Through June 5, 2011