Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Future: September 2001

James Alexander Rankin
Photo by Cody York
(Playhouse Square, 2021)
You know this story, or one very similiar to it.

It was my second week as an actor-teacher for Great Lakes Theater. We were in rehearsal, playing a warm-up exercise. Someone’s cellphone went off, and instead of turning it off, this someone answered it and started talking. This has always irritated me in remembering it, that that was unprofessional. Inappropriate.

I recall only now that it was his mother. If it had been my mother, I would have answered it, too.

The rest of us kept playing the game. Silly game, one meant for children. I could overhear the conversation my colleague was having. Something bad had happened, happened in New York.

I thought, I am now in the ignorance. Really, I thought that. This is my last moment of the innocent not-knowing.

It was a deep, blue Tuesday. And on that day the 21st Century truly began.

As I was compsing the script about my experiences with stillbirth, the script which would eventually become I Hate This (a play without the baby) I included a scene about September 11th. It made sense to me then. The story begins in March 2001 and tells about what happened through the following twelve months. It is set in time, how could you not make mention of the most traumatic moment in modern American history?

On that day we, we actor-teachers, we first listened the radio, and then went downstairs to watch on TV in a local bar and grill, before finally drifting away. Rehearsal was over for the day. I called my wife, she was watching at the fitness center. She lived in NYC for seven years, we knew people there, we had been there less than a month earlier, and we were both still so fresh in our personal grief. Was she okay? She was fine. Disoriented, but fine. We planned to meet at home.

She had a therapist appointment that afternoon, and called to see if she was seeing anyone that day. Her doctor said, well, she had appointments after all. And didn’t it make sense, seeing as what had happened that morning, to keep them? The doctor even asked if my wife would like to invite me to join them, which was very nice, and so I did.

David Hansen
(MetroHealth Main Campus, 2005)
Trauma can trigger unrelated trauma. It felt selfish even then to make this about us, and our loss. People had died that day, thousands of people died horribly. But we were still in our recovery, and the shock of this other event was still a shock.

I tried to articulate this in my play, which I began writing in 2002. One member of our writers group thought it was a distraction from the main story, which was and is intensely personal. He said it took him out of our story to mention 9/11. The others disagreed, and I kept it in, but his sentiment was not unreasonable and it stayed with me.

I remember my first performance in the West Village in 2004, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. I was aware of the fact that I might be reporting back to people personally affected by the tragedy what it had been like to watch it on TV. From Cleveland.

During the scene in question, titled “The Future,” I take the briefest of pauses after first mentioning the World Trade Center, a moment of silence in which one of the critics seated in the second row, literally five feet in front of me, loudly clicked their ballpoint pen to make a note. Ah-ha.

Directing the play for video this year, Chennelle asked if I would consider dropping the scene. She’d suggested a few judicious but minor cuts here and there, first when she directed my performance in 2016, and again directing James for the Playhouse Square video. Minor, but notable. She’d never suggested cutting an entire scene. I asked her to film it, and we’d see.

There’s nothing wrong with James’s delivery. In fact, it’s very good. But watching a rough cut of the video, I have decided that Chennelle is right, that the time had come for this scene to go. Because to someone who had not lived through that moment, it is distracting. There are details that tie the play to time and place, but that one is so vast. Mentioning it before was appropriate, because it was expected. Today, I agree that it is no longer necessary to include in this play. 

James Alexander Rankin performs "The Future"

Coming soon: Playhouse Square presents "I Hate This (a play without the baby)" directed by Chennelle Bryant-Harris and performed by James Rankin.

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