By: Sandi Durell
Like the Holocaust, there are specific moments in time that change lives, change the face of society as we know it. When two planes crashed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, that moment in time was etched into our souls and minds forever. It has undeniably altered the daily lives of Americans, especially New Yorkers who witnessed the horrors, and that of people around the world. We think differently, react differently and many sit on a mental time bomb waiting for the next strike against our freedoms and way of life.
When journalist Thomas F. Flynn, a Greenwich Village resident, heard the calamity on that fateful day, he jumped on his bike and pedaled right into the midst of it, a natural reaction for any newsman. What later emerged from the CBS award-winning journalist and producer was a book written as a narrative poem of his experiences upon which “Bikeman” is based. It is titled as such because the ambulance driver who brought him out of the garage in which he was trapped, dubbed him ‘bikeman.’
It’s more than difficult, at best, to describe the individual horrors – seeing bodies falling from burning crumbling buildings, hearing the cries and screams, the panic, the Hell; fire and smoke everywhere – and the pain of writing such descriptions, life-changing.
Take all that and bring it live on a stage with actors spewing the words from the book – a monumental task! Robert Cuccioli, as Thomas F. Flynn, the central figure, recounts the heart-wrenching horrors with all the sensitivity and emotions anyone could muster, along with the other dedicated actors, Irungu Mutu, Angela Pierce, Elizabeth Ramos and Richard Topol, who portray various characters and their experiences, ending in the zombie-like depiction of the men and women who walked and walked north, many shoeless, covered in the dust that was the lives of those fallen innocents.
This takes place on a barren stage but for a bicycle (a replica of the original) and a wall of monitors that spins around to reveal metal stairs and walkways (set design James Noone). Sometimes the original music by Jonathan Brielle can be deafening and frightening (sound design Sam Kusnetz), as the lighting effects by Kevin Adams bring eerie reality.
Why is this piece at Tribeca Performing Arts Center in a steep set theatre? It reflects the location of the tragedy and new 9/11 Memorial site, as well as the physicality of a Greek tragedy in its staging and portrayal.
In 50 minutes, the story unfolds and we are all riveted in the memory of where we were during the actual experience. The post-show talk back, with director Michael Bush and cast members, elicited more from the audience than anything else. A young person who was only 7 years of age at the time, not quite comprehending the horror, wondered why her parent was coming to take her home in the middle of her school day; someone who knew poor souls lost on that “Forever September Morning” in the Towers and on one of the planes; a woman who was traveling in Africa, and her desperation to speak with her family members in New York, felt guilty because she was not present – – each a significant unfading memory.
There are flaws in presenting a narrative poem – difficulties in the dialogue of connecting one man’s experiences to an epic moment in history in this larger than necessary theater setting.
We were all zombies on that day. But this is a story that must be told and told frequently, like the Holocaust, so we never forget!
“Bikeman: A 9/11 Play” continues thru March 30th at TriBeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street, 212 220-1460 www.bikeman911.com
*Photo: Carol Rosegg