Late September 2001. Downtown NYC. Life goes on, but not like before, never like before, in Brian Sloan’s riveting WTC View, now getting a long-awaited West Coast Premiere at Santa Ana’s Theatre Out, and a particularly fine one at that.
Eschewing the wide-angle lens of films like World Trade Center, Sloan opts for a close-up look at a recently single Manhattanite (Jeffrey Fargo as Everyman Eric) pursuing what in other circumstances would be an entirely mundane task, that of finding a new roommate to share his tiny two-bedroom SoHo flat.
Each of Eric’s prospective roomies—recent London transplant Jeremy (Cris Cortez), trucking company manager Kevin (Trent Brown), political consultant Jeff (Kevin Manalang), Wall Streeter Alex (Jeff Lowe), and NYU junior Max (Julian Ronquillo)—has a unique tale to tell.
More significantly, as each new applicant—and Eric’s best friend, married Upper Eastsider Josie (Christi Pedigo)—gives us his or her take on the events of that still recent September morn, Eric lets slip assorted pieces of a personal puzzle that won’t come together till WTC’s final, cathartic moments.
Even today, fifteen years after the attacks, Sloan’s intimate powerhouse of a play retains every iota of its punch, whether as an emotional journey down memory lane for those able to say, “I remember” or as a history primer for those too young to even be asked the question, “Where were you when the first plane hit?”
Adroitly inserted historical details add to WTC View’s impact—the F15/F16 air patrols flying high above the Manhattan skies, the NYU student gatherings in Union Square, the 800 number set up to provide counseling to those in need of emotional support, the ongoing mayoral campaign whose eventual outcome proved a direct result of the attacks, and more.
As for those who might be turned off by the possibility of Unrelentingly Overwrought Drama, playwright Sloan sprinkles in refreshing bits of humor along the way.
Performances at Theatre Out are all-around terrific under David C. Carnevale’s astute direction, the two biggest featured roles going to Pedigo as a supportive friend suffering her own post-9/11 distress and to Lowe as a comfort-providing fellow recent singleton.
The former’s sunny blonde girl-next-door appeal provides a just-right contrast to Fargo’s dark intensity; the latter underplays Alex’s own traumatic experience on the morning of September 11 to potent effect.
Cortez’s prim and posh Londoner, Brown’s sexy jokester of a frat boy, Manalang’s committed politico, and Ronquillo’s idealistic NYU twink are cameo gems.
Above all there is Fargo’s mesmerizing star turn as a young man whose attempts at joviality mask an emotional time bomb on the verge of detonation, the question not being “if” but “when” … and how devastatingly.
If I haven’t yet mentioned the gender (male) of the ex providing Eric with comfort and shelter in the first few days after the attack, it’s because our hero’s sexual orientation plays no more a role in his post-traumatic stress than does Josie’s (or other straight characters’) heterosexuality in theirs.
This makes WTC View an ideal Theatre Out programming choice, adding considerable crossover potential to the latest from Orange County’s LGBT theater treasure.
It’s hard to imagine WTC View being performed in a more ideal setting than Theatre Out’s matchbook stage, one that allows production designers Carnevale and Joey Baital to recreate Eric’s cramped downtown Manhattan room-for-rent to the smallest detail.
The duo’s expert production design also includes some highly effective lighting choices (the early morning light shining in from the apartment’s WTC-view window is particularly fine), dramatic sound effects (sirens, aircraft, Top 40-radio, phone rings, etc.); props (cigarettes, an aerosol can, a palm pilot, 2001 magazines), and just-right costumes for each character.
Carnevale, Diego Castro, Tito Ortiz, Morgan Reynolds, and Andrew J. Villareal voice assorted answering machine messages.
WTC View is produced by Carnevale and Baital. Brian Robrecht is stage manager.
It’s taken far too long for Brian Sloan’s intensely personal look at this century’s defining event to make it to Southern California. Theatre Out’s Grade-A West Coast Premiere makes it well worth the wait.
Theatre Out, 402 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana.
September 2, 2016
Photos: David C. Carnevale