[This article was originally published September 11, 2017.]
When tragedy strikes, we turn to art to help us reflect, explore, understand, and progress. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, inspired countless books, films, and, of course, pieces of theatre. Today, as we remember those lost and honor those who helped rebuild, we also look back at the plays dealing with the crisis and its effects on our evolving country.
1. The Guys
The play by Anne Nelson about a New York City journalist who helps a local fire captain write memorial speeches for his men who died in the World Trade Center crisis bowed starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in January 2002. The drama became a film, directed by Weaver’s husband, Jim Simpson, and starring Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia. In 2003, The New York Historical Society held two benefit performances of the work featuring Swoosie Kurtz and Dan Lauria.
2. Bystander 9/11
Performed as a documentary drama in 2002, Meron Langsner’s Bystander 9/11 was based on his stream-of-consciousness writings in response to the September 11 attacks. First seen in Boston and New York City, the work played small theatres nationwide and is part of the The Methuen Drama Anthology of Testimonial Plays.
3. The Mercy Seat
Neil LaBute’s play about businessman Ben who survives the World Trade Center attacks because of his extramarital affair with his boss—one that kept him out of the office that morning—premiered at MCC in December 2002. Thinking his family believes he died in the disaster, Ben contemplates running away and starting a new life with his lover, bringing up questions of human impulse and morality. The production also starred Sigourney Weaver opposite Liev Schrieber.
4. Recent Tragic Events
This 9/12 story follows a couple on a blind date the day after the towers fell while the woman is trying to reach her sister in New York. Written by Craig Wright, the play opened Playwrights Horizons’ season in 2003.
5. Omnium Gatherum
One of the three finalists for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the play by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros premiered at Kentucky’s Humana Festival in 2003 before opening Off-Broadway at the Variety Arts Theatre later that year. Over a Manhattan dinner party, a former caterer, British journalist, American writer, and others ponder and argue about capitalism, terrorism, feminism, heroism, morality, and justice.
6. The God of Hell
Written in response to September 11, Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard tells the story of a Wisconsin dairy farmer and his wife and the disruption of their peaceful life in Middle America by an ultra-patriotic government employee. The drama debuted at The Actors Studio Drama School and eventually played the Donmar Warehouse in London and even reached the theatre community in Australia.
7. The Domestic Crusaders
A few years out from September 11, works began reflecting post-9/11 culture. Wajahat Ali’s play about a Pakistani-American family of six who gather for the youngest sibling’s 21st birthday explores a new type of kitchen sink drama.
8. Truth Serum Blues
Commissioned by Pangea World Theater, Truth Serum Blues marked Ismail Khalidi’s playwriting debut. His story follows a young Arab-American living in a post-9/11 world.
9. United States of Banana
A mix of experimental theatre, poetry, and shorty story, United States of Banana began as a work only on the page. In 2011 and 2012, writer Giannina Braschi performed dramatic readings of her work.
In 2013, Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize for his Disgraced, which then transferred to Broadway in 2014. Exploring themes of self-loathing, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Akhtar’s provocative work highlighted new obstacles for Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 climate.
11. Good Morning Gitmo
The one-act dark comedy takes place in the future warden’s office of Guantanamo Bay. Written by Mishu Hilmy and Eric Simon, the play premiered at Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre in 2014.
William Finn’s song cycle Elegies, about dealing with grief in a post-9/11 world, included the specific and emotional ballad “Goodbye/Boom Boom” that describes the plane crashes at the World Trade Center.
13. Come From Away
The most recent Broadway work to commemorate events related to 9/11, the musical by David Hein and Irene Sankoff chronicles the 38 planes re-routed to Gander, Newfoundland, when U.S. air space closed in response to the terrorist attacks. Billed as a “9/12 story,” the show earned seven Tony nominations and one win for its depiction of the importance of human kindness. A film capture of the musical was released on Apple TV+ September 10 and will reopen on the Main Stem September 21.
Ruthie Fierberg is Playbill's former executive editor of features and branded content. She is also a freelance writer, moderator, and podcaster. Find more at RuthieFierberg.com.