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September 25th

This collection of three one-acts by Paul Jordan examines the lives of six New Yorkers two weeks after Sept. 11. It's not nearly as scary as it sounds. (I'd have bet the rent I'd hear a variation on the line, "Oh, the humanity," and I would have lost.) It's like three little versions of that iconic two-characters-on-a-park-bench piece, Zoo Story, with the World Trade Center functioning more as an accessory to each tale.

The strongest of the three is the last, when the author takes the stage under the name Paul DiPaola. He plays policeman David, who meets his girlfriend Marie (Janet Lo) at the pivotal bench for, as it turns out, quite different reasons: she to break up with him, he to propose marriage. They're together only because they got caught up in the life-is-for-the-living orgy that sometimes follows disasters; she feels that after two weeks the fling has run its course, whereas he is swept up by the romanticism of it all. It's a solid premise that never runs out of steam, and the performers are completely engaging. It's the one time in the evening we forget we're staring at actors on a bench on a bare stage. (Credit for the bench and the very clean wire-mesh trash can--the entirety of the set--is given to the Warner Bros. prop department.)

The evening opens on a scene that never really jells, involving a fireman, Frank (Stan Klimecko), and the gentleman he rescued, Art (Devon Michaels). At first it seems the men might have been meeting daily since the disaster to just kind of work things out, but when Art expresses surprise that Frank smokes, it seems as if perhaps this is their first meeting. Is it by chance? Did they promise to meet again two weeks from their initial encounter? Trying to figure out the backstory becomes more interesting than watching the actors, both of whom soldier through without making the piece terribly interesting.

The middle scene involves a couple (John Rowe and Sarah Reilly), who have come to a crossroads in their marriage. After five years in New York, she's ready to leave (her fear is the only connection made to the WTC), whereas he feels his career as a sculptor is finally taking off. Why people who have a place to live would have this discussion in public escapes me. Rowe gives a solid performance, but Reilly has a tendency to speed-talk as a way of expressing anxiety. It makes life without her look like a pretty good option, which is probably not what the actress intended.

Director Melanie Merians rises to, but fails to improve on, the material. She shows a sure hand when she's working with the good stuff and is every bit as unsure as the writer when she's not.

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