New World Symphony
The theater world comes together to reflect on the September 11 tragedy and to greet a Brave New World.
Neuwirth is one of a score of noted actors -- including Alec Baldwin, Holly Hunter, Ethan Hawke, Amy Irving, Kristin Davis, Rosie Perez, Marsha Mason, Paul Rudd, Dana Ivey, Neil Patrick Harris, Cynthia Nixon, and Juliana Margulies, and many others -- who will be giving voice to fifty plays, songs, and poems by an equally impressive list of writers and composers participating in this theater marathon, directed by such heavy-hitters as Neil Labute and Walter Bobbie. Brave New World will embrace four separate programs of these works on September 9, 10, and 11. Proceeds will be donated to the New York Children's Foundation, an organization that benefits children affected by 9/11 and its aftermath.
"This event was initiated by J. Dakota Powell, and it's really her vision, her ambition, and her resourcefulness that's put all this together," noted Olympia Dukakis, who hosted the recent press preview at Sardi's wherein excerpts from some of the works were presented. Playwright Powell is the artistic director of Brave New World; one of her own plays, Exodus, will be performed on the second night of the event.
The plays to be offered are by a wide variety of new and established writers such as Alfred Uhry, John Guare, Diana Son, Lee Blessing, Christopher Shinn, and Warren Leight; many of them were written within the last year in direct response to the tragic events of September 11. These short works average about 15 minutes in length, and each of the four Brave New World programs will contain several of them. Interspersed with the plays will be songs by some of the best theater composers and lyricists around: Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, Jason Robert Brown, Mark Hollman & Greg Kotis, etc. There will also be readings of poems and presentations of short solo works and reflective pieces.
At the Sardi's preview, the press got a taste of some of these works, beginning with Edwin Sanchez's moving play Pops. "I wrote Pops," prefaced Sanchez, "because there's a guilt that's left when you survive." In the play, which will be presented on the night of the 11th, a young man talks about how he and his father used to watch the I Love Lucy show together. Actor Ivan Davila, wearing an "I love New York" t-shirt, read the part with script in hand; the flashes and clicks of the press photographers' cameras slowed to a halt as Davila got to the line where the character explained that his father "was a busboy and he had a breakfast shift at the restaurant he worked at, Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. He didn't come home the next day. Or ever." The young man goes on to describe how, at his father's wake, he momentarily lost his mind and, in a strange sort of tribute to his dad, began doing all of the old Lucy routines until the only thing he could do was scream Lucy's trademark cry, "Waahhh," finally breaking down in tears for his lost father.
Sanchez's play was followed by actor Eli Wallach and his grandson Tyler reading a poem that the boy wrote, with the powerful refrain "I am as strong as a lion and as soft as silk." In explanation of the poem's genesis, Tyler said simply: "It expressed what I felt about September 11,"
Jonathan Marc Sherman has contributed one of the lighter works included in Brave New World with "Ribbon in the Sky," which will be seen at the final performance on the night of the 11th. The play, which Sherman sees as a metaphor for the twin towers, is a hilarious look at the relationship between two feuding fraternal twins. Actress Catherine Curtin, who read the part of the twin Eleanor at Sardi's, expressed her appreciation in being a part of the event and sharing Sherman's play: "I think laughter is the greatest healer, and it's the greatest gift humans have that we can bring each other laughter and tears."
Two songs by composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa, "Last Year" and "There Will Be a Miracle," will be heard in Brave New World. Both are from his new musical R Shomon, about a priest who loses his faith after a great catastrophe and plays a malicious joke on the community only to end up inspiring thousands to find hope in a miracle. Accompanied on piano by LaChiusa at Sardi's, Donna Murphy sang the lattter song, which ends: "There will be a miracle. If not soon, now."
"You can see the quality of this writing," enthused Dukakis as she introduced the final play. Its author, Charles Evered -- who is also an officer in the Naval Reserves -- talked about a program called "Adopt a Sailor" through which a person or a family offers food, lodging, and company to a sailor on shore leave. Evered explained that the collective New York attitude toward Fleet Week -- that week in which hundreds of white-clad sailors descend on the city -- was somewhat different following 9/11. "I wondered," mused Evered, "what it would be like for a couple who would not usually adopt a sailor...to adopt a sailor." And that is the subject of his play, which has a liberal, intellectual upper-class husband and wife -- read by Neuwirth and Len Cariou at Sardi's -- hosting a quiet young sailor on leave.
Dukakis concluded the preview by reading an excerpt from The Cure at Troy, poet-playwright Seamus Heaney's translation of Sophocles' The Philoctetes:
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And healing wells.