A Rock Hill play that honors the sacrifices of firefighters on 9/11 will also benefit York County firefighters.
The Rock Hill Community Theatre will present “The Guys” next month. The two-person production tells the story of a New York Fire Department captain struggling with writing an unprecedented number of eulogies for eight of his firefighters who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Center.
More than 340 firefighters died on 9/11, the single deadliest day for first responders in the United States.
The play debuted off-Broadway in December 2001, starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray.
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As Nick, the grief-stricken fire department captain, copes with the loss of so many of his men and prepares their eulogies, the audience gets to know a handful of the firefighters who died that day, according to Susan L.D. Smith, who is directing the Rock Hill show. Joan, an editor and former reporter struggling to find a way to help her city in the aftermath of the terror attacks, agrees to help Nick write eight eulogies.
“You look at the numbers and they’re numbers,” she said. “But this brings home the individuality, the individual people. However fictitious the guys may be, they’re based on real people. To know that this particular firefighter had three kids and was a churchgoer and loved family events, and this one was a practical joker and all the men in the firehouse loved him.”
Nick, who is played by Rock Hill resident Keith Hopkins, puts the number of firefighters killed in perspective in the show.
“At the most, they might lose six in the entire department in a single year,” Hopkins said, “and they lost 350 in one hour.”
To prepare for such an emotional role, Hopkins, who is a U.S. Air Force veteran, studied documentaries on 9/11, including one in which filmmakers were in the lobby of one of the towers when it started crumbling.
“Although I’ve never been in battle but I’ve prepared for it ... you know what you’re getting into,” he said. “These guys had no idea what they were getting into. All they knew was they were responding the way that they were trained to go do what they were trained to do.”
Pam Unruh plays Joan, the writer assisting Nick in crafting the eulogies. She says that hearing Nick’s stories about the dead firefighters affects her character deeply, but even the show’s content brings back a lot of memories for them during rehearsals.
“It’s important that we remember,” she said. “It’s important we remember what happened that day and what the service people have been doing since that day to protect our freedoms, our rights and our safety.”
Unruh is also an Air Force veteran. But for her, the show is a way to give back to York County firefighters, who will receive the bulk of the ticket proceeds.
“Nine years ago, my daughter was in a car accident – a tree fell on her car,” Unruh said. “If the fire department hadn’t gotten there to extricate her from the car and get her medical help, she never would have made it.”
Want to go?
▪ “The Guys” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 and 10, and at 3 p.m. Sept. 11.
▪ Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.
▪ Information: Call the Rock Hill Community Theatre at 803-326-7428.