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Theater Review

Unvarnished Chronicle of 9/11

September 26, 2002|DAVID C. NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"I want it never to have happened, but it did."

Thus begins Artie Van Why's "That Day in September," now playing a limited engagement at the Celebration Theatre. This recounting of what one American encountered on Sept. 11, while equivocal as theater, commands unalloyed admiration for its dedication to chronicling the terrorist attacks from firsthand experience.

One reason is its appealing chronicler, the sort of fellow whom mothers pray their daughters (or sons) will bring home. His piece, developed after the outpouring of reactions to his cathartic Internet accounts, is spare in performance, most closely resembling the heartfelt sharing associated with 12-step meetings.

Under Richard Masur's direction, which mainly entails adroit lighting cues and letting the material do the rest, Van Why simply speaks his truth, reading the text from a music stand with unvarnished directness.

The trajectory moves back and forth across time in semilinear manner. Van Why charts his Maryland roots, collegiate acting aspirations and realization of same-sex orientation, migration to Manhattan and departure from show business to work for a law firm. Then, in June 2001, his office moved to a downtown site across from the World Trade Center.

Van Why's recollections of the attacks and their aftermath are harrowing, marked by an eyewitness perspective that has the sober authenticity of diary entries. If anything qualifies the proceedings, it is that these descriptions overshadow the narrative line, which follows his traumatized process toward generating this show, ending with his ongoing daily goal: "I will not forget to live."

To apply conventional theatrical criteria to such a document misses the point and dishonors the purpose. Countless heroes emerged from the chaos of Sept. 11, and by selflessly sharing his story, Van Why must be counted among their number.

*

"That Day in September," Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, Friday, Oct. 4-5, 15-17, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 13, 20, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12, 19, 3 p.m. Ends Oct. 20. $15. (323) 957-1884. Running time: 75 minutes.

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