- Anne Nelson's play "The Guys" is based on her experiences
as a journalist in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York
City. Theater critic Evan Henerson hails it as "a connection
that audiences at a theater 3,000 miles away from Ground Zero need
poignant drama to the local stage, the Department of Theatre and
Dance at The University of Southern Mississippi is partnering with
the city of Hattiesburg to present the national touring production
- starring The Actors Gang, a theater company based in Los Angeles
- on Sept. 5 at the Saenger Theatre in downtown Hattiesburg.
drama centers on Nick, a fire captain who lost eight men in the
collapse of the World Trade Center, and Joan, an editor Nick enlists
to help prepare eulogies for his fallen comrades. Together, they
put together the difficult, heartfelt speeches that Nick must deliver
with honor, humor and poise - all the while, navigating his way
through his own emotional response.
is about emotional healing and coming to terms with the events of
Sept. 11," said Frank Kuhn, chair of the Department of Theatre
and Dance at Southern Miss. "It has been acclaimed in New York
and Los Angeles, but the Pine Belt, along with the rest of the country,
shared in the events of that day and the ongoing process of coming
to terms with the aftermath."
development officer for the College of Arts and Letters at Southern
Miss, said her department began conversations about a year ago with
the Actors Gang about their moving production. "After hearing
about it from organizations in North Carolina, Georgia and New York,
we felt this would be a tremendous gift to our community as we are
nearing the two-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedies,"
explained how the Department of Theatre and Dance teamed with the
city of Hattiesburg in presenting this unique production.
of the nature of the performance, we at Southern Miss felt this
would be appropriate for the city to be involved in promoting such
a moving tribute to our nation's heroes," she said. "Mayor
Dupree has been a longtime supporter of the arts at Southern Miss,
being a board member for Partners for the Arts and the Community
Arts School. He did not hesitate to offer us the use of the Saenger
Theatre and in providing promotional assistance."
After the partnership
was established, other good things evolved around the event. While
the professional actors are in Hattiesburg, they have agreed to
offer an acting workshop for local high schools, thanks to a grant
from the Southern Arts Foundation.
Also, as a
tribute to local firefighters, the Hattiesburg Coca-Cola Bottling
Company has purchased tickets for the city of Hattiesburg fire fighters
to attend the performance.
never written a play but was a veteran reporter and former war correspondent
in El Salvador in the early 1980s. For her, the director of the
International Programs for the Graduate School of Journalism at
Columbia University, journalism was familiar, and she viewed words
and sentences as a means of writing hard news and features.
Sept. 11 changed
all that. Though Nelson appreciated theater since her undergraduate
days performing in musical theater at Yale University, she said
she never expected that the tragedy of the attacks would redirect
her writing career.
The chain of
events leading her to write her play began shortly after Sept. 11
when she was visiting her sister in Park Slope, Brooklyn, trying
to find perspective. A friend of her sister's called about a New
York City fire captain she had just met. He needed a writer to help
him write eulogies, and Nelson saw this as the opportunity she needed
to do something useful.
painful to ask him questions, and it was painful to hear the answers,"
Nelson told reporter Jo Kadlecek of the Columbia News. "But
it had to be done. Memorial services were coming up, and I wanted
to help him create eloquent eulogies that were still in his voice."
attending a benefit dinner for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
with her husband, she was seated next to Jim Simpson, artistic director
of the Flea Theater. He told her that his company had been challenged
to find a play that could speak to the tragedy and could also address
the theater's needs, having suffered drastically as far as audiences
since the fateful day.
told Simpson of her experience in writing eulogies for the fire
captain, he asked her to turn it into a play. She agreed to try.
Her play first premiered at Tribeca's Flea Theater in December 2002
to sold-out audiences.
The San Francisco
Examiner calls The Actors Gang "... an enormously talented
and versatile ensemble." Founded in 1981 by a group of renegade
theater artists, The Actors Gang strives to create bold, original
works for the stage and daring interpretations of the classics.
During the course of its first 20 years, the company has produced
68 plays and won more than 100 awards, winning acclaim for interpretations
of Shakespeare, Bruchner, Brecht, Moliere, Aeschylus, Ibsen and
Chekhov. At the same time, it develops and presents new plays that
address the world today, like Nelson's "The Guys."
Theatre performance Sept. 5 starts at 7:30 p.m. General admission
tickets are $10 and $8 for senior citizens, students, and city employees.
call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or (800)
844-8425. Order online at www.usm.edu/tickets.