by Hugh Hunter
Quite a few plays, movies and songs have made use of the 9/11 catastrophe (and “use,” I’m afraid, is the operative word here). Directed by T. Patrick Ryan, the play “WTC View” (2003) by Brian Sloan, now running at Allens Lane Theater, feels like one of the more genuine efforts.
The central character is Eric, a gay Manhattan man who can see the World Trade Center from his apartment window. The day before 9/11, Eric advertised for a roommate. Now, despite the tragedy, his phone is ringing off the hook.
He interviews potential roomies — NYU student, Englishman, political worker, blue collar “straight” guy. These encounters are richly ironic, but Eric is too distraught to feel the humor. Alex (Patrick Alicarlo) is different, a Wall Street man who was actually inside a World Trade building when the planes struck. He becomes a one-night stand but fails to give Eric peace of mind.
Then there is Josie (Shelli Pentimall Bookler), a reccurring visitor. A chirpy married woman, she is Eric’s best friend. Later, we learn Josie is pregnant and confides that she had considered an abortion because — you guessed it — since 9/11 she did not want to “bring a child into this world.” (Hokum of this sort cannot go unpunished.)
But the focus of “WTC” is Eric himself, holed up in his apartment with its smoky yellow windows. Ably played by Joseph Nevin, he is a 30-ish photographer who was fragile before 9/11. The constant smoke, smell and police sirens of post-disaster Lower Manhattan push him to the edge.
“WTC” is not entirely fictional. Playwright Brian Sloan lives in lower Manhattan within sight of the World Trade Center. He did in fact advertise for a roommate the day before the catastrophe. He was both moved and surprised by the large response. In an interview, he confides that he even used some of the language of his callers in creating characters.
But his main character, Eric, is curiously unsatisfying, a fidgety physical wreck of a man. There is ample opportunity for him to crack a smile once in a while, but his world remains claustrophobic. Utterly lacking inner resources, how does he avoid a crack-up?
The answer is simply this. The “hero” of “WTC” is not Eric but the city itself. Resolute in their will to live, the visitors buck up his spirit. “WTC View” sees 9/11 not as national trauma but as a quintessential New York City event. It is a love poem to a city tough as a tree growing out of a rock. And the people themselves, various and indomitable, will not be beaten down.
Allens Lane is located at Allens Lane near McCallum Street. “WTC View” will run through March 26. Reservations at 215-248-0546.