Nick’s hands are shaking. He’s lost eight men on one unthinkable day.
Nick is a New York City fire captain, faced with writing the eulogies for his firefighters — men he lived with at the firehouse, guys who were like family — who died trying to help victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
“See, I just don’t know what to do,” he says.
“The call came, and they went off, and . . . they haven’t found them yet but . . . some of the families, they want to have the service now so they can try to move on . . . I got to get up and talk in church. . . . What am I going to say?”
Someone appears: a woman from outside Nick’s circle.
She’s not a woman Nick would have met any other way, but Sept. 11, 2001, brought people together in New York and across the continent.
This is the story of “The Guys,” Anne Nelson’s play about Nick and Joan, the writer and journalism professor who help each other through the days after the terrorist attacks.
On the North Olympic Peninsula, on the 10th anniversary, something unusual is happening.
“The Guys” is to be presented by two community theater troupes: Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim and Readers Theatre Plus, which will perform it in Port Angeles.
Curtain times at OTA, 414 N. Sequim Ave., are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, while Readers Theatre will offer a staged reading at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse, 1235 E. Lauridsen Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11.
The play, just an hour long, “is so powerful,” said Carol Swarbrick Dries, the stage and screen actress to portray Joan in the Readers Theatre production.
“There’s plenty of audience for both,” she added.
“This is the time to present this,” said her husband, Jim Dries, director of “The Guys” in Port Angeles.
“This is a play a lot of people should see, in both communities.”
At the Port Angeles playhouse before each performance, the American Legion Riders will form a line of American flags, through which patrons may pass as they walk to the theater, Dries added.
All seats at all performances of “The Guys” this weekend will be $10.
For the OTA presentation, tickets will be available at the door or by phoning 360-683-7326.
For the Port Angeles shows, tickets are on sale at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., Port Angeles, and at Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St., Sequim, and information is available at 360-681-3862.
Both productions of “The Guys” are fundraisers: Readers Theatre Plus will give its proceeds to the Clallam County Fire Chiefs Association’s safety-enhancement program while OTA will give to Clallam County Fire District 3’s Explorer Troop 1003.
In Readers Theatre’s “The Guys,” Swarbrick Dries will star opposite veteran Port Angeles actor Paul Martin.
When he was first handed the script and asked whether he was interested in playing Nick in a staged reading, his response was: “I’ve got to do this.”
Martin said he wept while reading the script — yet he emphasizes that “The Guys” is a story of hope and recovery.
What moves Martin most is the change in Nick.
“This guy grows, from the beginning of the play to the end,” he said.
At the start, “he’s a basket case.” But gradually, through talking with Joan, he regains his confidence.
“It’s a great transition,” Martin said.
In Sequim, Roger Briggs and his wife of 44 years, Sharon Briggs, will offer a fully staged version of the play.
The couple, who moved to Sequim a year ago after living in Kennewick and on Whidbey Island, have performed the play in three other venues: a Kennewick coffee house, the Richland fire station and, in May 2006, at Poulsbo’s Jewel Box Theater.
“We especially like plays that have to do with real life, that deal with relationships,” Roger said.
And Sharon, a retired hospice nurse, relates strongly to her role, and to the way the two people change in the course of the play.
“Nick and I weren’t supposed to meet. You couldn’t create another sequence for his life that leads to me, or for my life that leads to him,” Joan says.
“After September 11th, all over the city, people jumped tracks.”
There’s another passage in “The Guys” that resonates with Sharon Briggs: When Joan walks toward the audience to deliver a monologue.
“I talk about how we don’t know people,” she said.
“We meet, but we don’t know what lies beneath, about these wonderful traits, that are hidden.”
She added that there are funny moments, folded inside memories. And in the course of the play, “you see [the captain] getting stronger.”
Swarbrick Dries, like Sharon Briggs, feels utterly blessed to be offering this play on the 10th anniversary weekend.
At one point, Nick asks Joan: “Are you OK?”
And that is what people kept asking one another after Sept. 11, Swarbrick Dries said.
“Then it was, ‘Is your family OK? Are your friends, your people, OK?
“And what is OK? We’ll get back to normal, but it will be a different kind of normal.”
“The Guys,” Swarbrick Dries said, shows what recovery means.
“How do each of us, individually, get through a tragic event?
“We remember the good times. We give thanks for the good people, and we come together.
“That’s where this play takes us.”
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.