'The Guys'

On Dec. 4, 2001, Manhattan's Flea Theater began a series of workshop performances of "The Guys," a play by Anne Nelson written in response to Sept. 11 and commissioned by the Flea's founder, Jim Simpson. Nelson and Simpson have now brought the play to the screen with an understated power and with Sigourney Weaver (Simpson's wife) and Anthony LaPaglia in roles they first played on stage. Essentially a two-character drama, "The Guys" makes the transition from stage to screen with considerable grace apart from some awkwardly inserted but brief archival footage.

"The Guys" is set 10 days after Sept. 11, and chance has brought together Weaver's Joan, an elegant, poised freelance journalist who has a rewarding professional and personal life, and lives with her husband and children in a tasteful Upper West Side apartment. LaPaglia's Nick is the veteran captain of a ladder company faced with having to speak at eight memorial services for men he has lost on Sept. 11, with many more speeches sure to follow. Numb with shock and grief, he is at a loss for words when he and Joan have been brought together in the Park Slope, Brooklyn, home of his neighbor, Joan's younger sister.

Craving an opportunity to respond to Sept. 11, Joan commences with forthrightness and sensitivity in drawing out Nick, a warm, blue-collar man who is determined not to give way to tears that continually threaten to well up in his eyes. These are two intelligent, mature adults who love their work and waste no time in tackling the task at hand. In getting Nick to start telling her about his lost comrades despite the acute pain he experiences in doing so, she finds descriptions and revelations she can then weave into coherent eulogies.

Nelson, director of the international program at the Columbia University School of Journalism, had never written a play before, but she clearly drew upon what she had experienced and thought about in regard to Sept. 11. Weaver has the authority and sensitivity to play a first-rate journalist, and thanks to Nelson, Joan is a uniquely convincing character. Her knack of giving shape and punch to Nick's words and emotions without distorting them is indeed enviable.

Joan's authenticity in turn reinforces Nick's realness. Weaver and LaPaglia quietly, effortlessly soar, and through their Joan and Nick we can experience the overwhelming enormity of Sept. 11 in an acutely personal way free of horrifying twin towers images, flag-waving and war-on-terrorism hysteria. What Nick imparts to Joan is the tremendous value his lost men possessed as human beings going about their dangerous jobs with dedication and without fuss.

"The Guys" becomes a hugely moving tribute not only to New York's brave firefighters, but also to all the people who go about their daily lives contributing to the collective good that we never seem to know about until, with cruel irony, tragedy strikes. In "The Guys' " best line, Joan observes that she and Nick weren't supposed to know each other, but that they do meet and can help and console each other gives a most heartening dimension to a most somber film.

'The Guys'

MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements and brief language.

Times guidelines: Although inappropriate for small children, the film is suitable for teens.

Sigourney Weaver ... Joan
Anthony LaPaglia ... Nick
Irene Walsh ... Joan's sister
Jim Simpson ... Joan's husband

A Focus Features release of a Contentfilm presentation of an Open City Films production. Director Jim Simpson. Producers Joana Vicente, Jason Kliot. Executive producers Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt, Bonnie Timmerman. Screenplay by Anne Nelson, Simpson; based on the play by Nelson. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti. Editor Sarah Flack. Music Mychale Danna. Costumes Sarah Beers. Production designer Susan Block. Art director Luico Seixas. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

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