Notes from the underground 

Anne Nelson's The Guys at Ansley Park Playhouse offers a pair of perspectives on grief in the wake of Sept. 11. Fire captain Nick (Vince Higgins) mourns eight of his men who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attack. Journalist Joan (Lauren Mitchell Ruehring) helps Nick eulogize his "guys" as a way to deal with the shell-shock that affected not just New Yorkers, but all Americans.

The Guys gave New York theater-goers some catharsis with its staging by the Flea Theatre only a few months after the towers fell. Letting Nick provide details about the procedures of firefighter work -- like the difference between "ladder" and "engine" -- helps lay people appreciate their job and honors the memories of the lost.

But with more distance from the disaster, The Guys' weaknesses are more apparent. It's repetitious, alternating between Nick telling stories about his men and Joan's highly self-conscious soliloquies full of lines like: "That moment marked the end of the post-modern era." At one contrived point, the playwright resorts to breaking the gloomy mood by having Joan imagine she and Nick doing a tango.

The production, directed by playwright-producers John Gibson and Anthony Morris, strives to move the audience but shows how more can be less. Granted, it's a very emotional encounter for both characters, but Higgins and Ruehring both start with such highly pitched feelings they have little room to maneuver as actors. Higgins gives Nick the right amount of roughneck eloquence, but he arrives at Joan's apartment apparently on the verge of breaking down and spends the whole play choking back tears.

Ruerhing begins at a teary, brittle state and as the play progresses, she gets increasingly hysterical and difficult to identify with. By the end she's literally screaming at the audience, overplaying the material as if Joan's having a nervous breakdown. But the script's own insistence on measuring Joan's abstract sadness against Nick's genuine despair seems misguided. The play should be about the guys, not the gal.


The Guys runs through May 18 at Ansley Park Playhouse, 1545 Peachtree St. Wed.-Thurs. at 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 5 p.m. 404-875-1193. $18. www.ansleyparkplayhouse.com.

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