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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh Firefighter Performs In Play About The Aftermath Of 9/11

A play written in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York is getting an online reading in Pittsburgh to mark the tragedy’s 20th anniversary. And it features two local actors who share a good bit of life experience with their characters.

Acclaimed journalist Anne Nelson wrote “The Guys” based on her experience helping a New York City fire captain craft eulogies for some of his fallen comrades. The play debuted in December 2001 in a production starring Sigourney Weaver as the writer “Joan” and Bill Murray as “Nick,” the fire captain. It later was made into a film starring Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia.

This week’s Pittsburgh show, supported by Chatham University, stars Billy Jenkins, a City of Pittsburgh firefighter and retired Marine. Joan is played by Gab Cody, a writer, performer and educator who on Sept. 11, 2001, was living in New York City.

By that date, Jenkins had been a Pittsburgh firefighter for two years, and like many colleagues, he wanted to go to New York to help. His active-duty status prevented that. He later served two tours of duty in Iraq, in 2003 and 2006.

“This fire captain, he speaks to me as a firefighter and as a Marine, in the situations that we’re put in. And so it does speak to me, absolutely,” said Jenkins, who in May retired from the Marines after 28 years of service. He is also an experienced performer, whose credits run from local stages (with barebones productions and Pittsburgh Public Theater) to the TV series “Killpoint” and even the big screen, including a small role as a Navy SEAL in the Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips.”

Jenkins said the play explores the bonds between firefighters as well as how storytelling can help people deal with grief.

“The fact that [the play] really is just a conversation between this devastated captain who lost so many of his men, and this writer, it just seemed like a good opportunity to remind people what it was like when it happened,” he said.

Cody has writing and performance credits with a wide range of local theater companies, including Bricolage Production Company, Pittsburgh Playhouse and Quantum Theatre. She said “The Guys” shows how shared trauma breaks down social barriers between people who might not normally meet. She also said that — the 20th anniversary of the attacks aside — the coronavirus pandemic makes the play surprisingly timely.

“The characters are going through many of the things I think we’re going through now,” she said. “There’s something about looking back at this disaster from 20 years ago while we’re in the middle of a sort of disaster of our own that’s really, really compelling.

“‘The Guys’ captures the humanity of the heroes of 9/11,” she added. “It captures the real humans behind the people we look at as heroes.”

The unstaged reading of “The Guys” runs about 70 minutes. It streams via Broadway on Demand all day Sun., Aug. 29. The streaming fee is $2.95. More information is here.

The production is requesting optional donations to the Pittsburgh Firefighter Memorial Fund and Pittsburgh Firefighters Local #1 partner Operation Warm.