Elyse McGill once overheard a group of young people talking about 9/11.
Since they weren’t alive when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened, they acted like it wasn’t that big of a deal and thought everything went back to normal within a couple of months.
“That just ate at me,” she said.
Being involved in the local theater scene, McGill set out to find a show about 9/11 that she thought would be relatable and could be presented by Actors Community Theater of Seymour near the 20th anniversary.
She found three and ordered the scripts and read them. “New York,” written by David Rimmer, had the most impact.
“As soon as I read this one, I just fell in love with it because there’s no way that someone can come to this show and watch it and not find someone that they relate to,” she said.
Rimmer set the show in a psychiatrist’s office in the months following 9/11, and each character — based on a real person — comes in one at a time.
McGill, however, read an off-Broadway review about a director who did it as a group therapy session and decided to go that route.
“We scrapped just about everything that I had in my mind up until that point and started from scratch because the group therapy session just speaks to me,” she said. “It’s about healing. The whole show is about healing and hope and being able to move on, and I think these (actors) do a really good job of conveying that.”
The show will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at ACTS, 357 Tanger Blvd., Suite 208, at Shops at Seymour. The theater chose to go black Sept. 11 out of respect.
“I think the thing I’m most looking forward to is seeing people connect,” McGill said. “We have several people that are in the cast that either they were in middle school or younger or not even born yet, and so those of us that are adults and remember what happened and remember what our feelings were, we’ve tried to convey that to these guys so that they can understand the sheer unknown that was going on at the time.”
Let’s meet some of the characters and actors.
Doctor (Catherine Horton)
Since she’s leading the group therapy session, the doctor has to put on a good show like she’s got it all together and everyone is coming to her for help.
Actually, though, she has her own issues.
“The whole character really kind of hits home with me,” Horton said. “It’s just in that moment of me being the doctor and me being the psychiatrist but yet being human, as well, you get to show that later on that this is helping me as well as everybody else.”
Fireman (Dennis McGill)
McGill said the firefighter experiences survivor’s guilt.
“A firefighter that saves so many, but he made it out alive himself, but he has the guilt of all of his other fallen brothers,” he said.
Pilot (Alexis Kieninger)
As a pilot, she watched on TV as an airplane that her coworkers were in hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
A couple of days later, she wound up in the cockpit with flight attendants and they talked about which one of them was going to be the killer if a terrorist tried to overtake their plane. The pilot started carrying an ax onboard, and her husband didn’t want her to fly anymore.
“So then she had to decide if she was willing to be left by her husband and have her marriage ruined or if she was going to stay and be a pilot and not desert the people who were there for her,” Kieninger said.
Sarah (Lucy Horton)
A teenager wasn’t alive when the terrorist attacks happened, but she’s still affected and doesn’t want to think about it.
Her soon-to-be-stepfather was painting walls in the first tower that was hit and died, and her father was away in the U.S. Army.
“She’s supposed to be hating this guy who is not her real dad, but she saw how happy he made her mother, and how can you be mad at that, especially after he died and seeing the effect that her mom’s in her room all the time, she doesn’t see her,” Horton said.
“He was there while her real dad was off in the Army doing who knows what,” she said. “He’s trying the night before to buddy up to her and make amends and cement their relationship and then dies the next day.”
Duff (Jeremy Hendrix)
Duff turned to substance abuse after 9/11 and experienced a lot of guilt.
“What really strikes me, watching it live in 2001 on TV as it was happening, was the people jumping (from the twin towers). It’s awful to have to make that decision, and the sound of it on TV of those thumps, it really just stuck with me,” Hendrix said. “Then I get cast in this role. There are so many relatable things, and there’s a lot of emotional memory to tie these things to.”
Devon (Amanda Bott)
As a reporter after 9/11, all Devon cares about is how she looks and being popular on TV and how that positively affects her career.
“She does make a revelation, like an understanding, that she is a horrible person and she would like to change, but she just can’t make that change,” Bott said. “She wants to, but she cares more about her life now than being a better person.”
Julia (Betty Baute)
Julia is a Hungarian refugee of World War II who after 9/11 becomes obsessed with what happened and can’t turn the TV off.
“She has to eventually get it out of her system so she can let go and relax and just not be to the point where she’s about ready to go nuts because her obsession is so great,” Baute said. “She keeps venturing back and talking about the past, and then coming up to this, she wasn’t directly related, she wasn’t there, then she sees the good times.”
When she ventures to downtown New York City, the people are so nice and happy and helping, and she wonders why it can’t be like that all of the time.
“She has a completely different set of problems. She was affected, but she wasn’t directly affected,” Baute said. “She’s quite a challenge.”
Plane Guy (Derrick Maxie)
A mental patient goes from being calm to feeling guilty of how he hurt so many lives by crashing a plane into one of the towers.
He, however, doesn’t realize there were two planes that hit the towers and thinks it’s impossible.
“He thinks in his mind he was one of the pilots,” Maxie said. “With my character, I may sound like I’m just normal, but then later on, I know that I’m going to be a little bit emotional because my character just feels guilty for killing such innocent lives. Even though he blames himself, really, he didn’t do anything.”
Babysitter (Jane Deweese)
A 12-year-old babysitter struggles after one of her best friends’ father died in the terrorist attacks.
“She doesn’t feel the right amount of emotion that she should,” Deweese said. “She fears that it could happen to her dad because it didn’t and it happened to her friend’s dad … but she doesn’t want to think about it because she feels like not even acknowledging her friend.”
Steven (Steve Deweese)
A caterer worked in one of the towers and knew a lot of people there on a first-name basis, but he doesn’t like to show or process emotions and hides behind all of his jokes.
“This is one of those events where even a character like him — and presumably like I am in real life — would not be able to hide completely behind humor,” Deweese said. “There was so much gravity and so much realness to that situation that even those of us who were running as fast as we can from real feelings are going to get caught, so I really relate to him.”
Mary (Michelle Elkins)
Mary, a human resources director, has survivor’s guilt because on 9/11, she saw a plane hit one of the towers and gets a call from a friend who is trapped in a closet in the tower and doesn’t make it out.
That’s why Mary hates her cellphone, Elkins said.
Tony (Tim Gordon)
A police detective is doing his annual task of taking inventory while also trying to find items from the towers that belong to families.
“He almost loses himself to it and starts taking in all of these connections because he knows that every single item that he’s touching is someone’s loved one that they lost and they are experiencing such grief,” he said. “Then he’s also mixing that with he has a direct connection himself.”
He almost takes it too far and really needs to be brought back down to reality, Gordon said.
“It just shows whether it’s somebody that was in the building or somebody that was doing small, little tasks afterwards to help out, it just affected such a large range of people,” he said.