Getting Personal

The power of theater can help heal the wounds of September 11 in New York City and beyond

During this poignant display, it struck me just how fundamentally irrelevant most modern entertainment is -- movies, television, celebrity gossip, all of it -- and how vital theater, live performance, can be. In the face of life, death, and more questions than answers, people need to get together, comfort friends, and give expression to emotion. When real-life tragedy strikes, people don't rush to screens; they rush to one another.

That was how things were in that theater. And that, in a larger sense, was what was happening in theaters all over town and all over the country -- especially in South Florida, with its strong New York ties. The show mustgo on, no matter what. Going to the theater -- and the opera and dance and musical events -- has become a political act, a statement about what it means to be civilized in the face of barbarity.

The nightcap to Val's memorial was held at Wilson's, a comfortable, clubby bistro on the Upper West Side that was a favorite of hers and Sam's. The owners generously threw open the bar, and the kitchen served a tasty buffet, all on the house. The musicians from the memorial came by and kicked in with a long jam of soul tunes. After a couple drinks, the Wall Streeters began to break out of their gloom; when Val's younger sister stood and took to the dance floor, the whole Wall Street crowd let loose three weeks of grief and shock. The joint was rocking; the band was smoking. The gleam was back in Sam's eye, for the moment anyway, and that was good. Once again the power of live performance made magic, bringing us all forward from September 11, compelling us to live -- desperately, wildly -- in the here and now.

This sweet, sad closing-night party was in full cry when I left, ready for the long trip back to South Florida, where more audiences in Palm Beach, Coral Gables, and everywhere in between are seeking what these New Yorkers found that night: clarity, comfort, and a sense of community. As I emerged onto 79th Street, a full moon hung low over Manhattan. The streets were full of cabs cruising for fares, like fireflies in a New York July. But it was October, and a chill ran through the night air. I hailed a cab and began the journey home.

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