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Review: Justin-Siena actors tell '110 Stories'

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110 Stories

Justin-Siena students Araceli Martinez, Hillary Cerillo, Natalie Ervin, Christopher Fidler, Devon de los Santos, Sophie Ha and Madeleine Simonson took part in their production of "110 Stories." 

On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, Saturday’s performance of “110 Stories” at Justin-Siena was tough but necessary. It was a reminder of the pain, confusion, and ultimate hope surrounding one of the worst tragedies in modern American history.

The title refers to the number of floors in the World Trade Center. But it also might as well refer to the number of monologues in the show. Each individual, staged at Justin Siena with actors in black, behind lecterns, gave a personal testimony of what it was like on Sept. 11, 2001, and the days immediately afterward.

There is nothing like a personal story to stir the human soul. That may have been the motivation behind Sarah Tuft’s assembling of this script. The monologues are pieced together directly from the verbatim interviews of first responders at Ground Zero. When done well, as they were in this production, they have a freshness and imperfection that makes them more authentic than would be a polished dramatization of the same events.

I’m a sucker for a set, which is why I love anything Justin-Siena does. This show was no exception. James Thomas Bailey rented two 15-foot tall LCD screens that stood like monoliths, representing the Twin Towers. On the screens, pictures of that day and its aftermath were projected in crisp bright color. Behind that were wooden silhouettes that represented the skyline of Manhattan. The 18 cast members were seated on stage and would walk up to the lecterns to perform.

There was a chaplain, a mother, an office worker; firemen, nurses, a chiropractor, and a car containing three medical doctors: a family practitioner, an optometrist, and a child psychologist. What is an optometrist going to do at Ground Zero? As it turns out, the dust got into everyone’s eyes, shutting them closed. The optometrist was able to cleanse their eyes so they could see.

Digging dead bodies out of the rubble, by hand, is intensely physical. The chiropractor was able to tend to soft tissue injuries, keeping the bodies limber.

A K9 handler was there with her German shepherd, Kermit. The dog was tirelessly dedicated to locating the bodies under the rubble. When it was time for her to go, she had to carry the dog to her car because he was so tired.

Chris Fidler played firefighter Don Casey. He had his New York accent and masculine swagger down. He could have been imported from the Bronx. But no, he’s actually the head of the science and engineering department at Justin-Siena, an example that its faculty is just as versatile as its students.

To wit: Dr. Andrew Hodges teaches religious studies and appropriately played Father Bob Deming; Maryanne Berry teaches English and narrated the show, as well as performed a touching 9/11 voicemail to her son; and Justin Hayes manages Justin-Siena’s IT department and played Tony Esola.

Firefighter Jason Cascone, whose first day at the firehouse was 9/11, was a central figure in the show, and Matthew Breneisen was a perfect casting choice. He had the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm of a tenderfoot firefighter. Cascone was told that his worst day as a firefighter would be his first.

I was 23 in 2001. I was working on a trading desk in downtown San Francisco. We had a TV on, tuned to CNN. I watched as both towers fell. My boss was in New York at the time, and on the speakerphone, he told us to go home.

In the aftermath of that day, the United States became a different country. That Thanksgiving and Christmas were somber affairs, but it seemed like we never loved each other more. Everyone was a little kinder, a little more patient, a little friendlier. Even here on the West coast, there was a collective softening of our demeanors. We were united, not only as Americans but in our humanity.

What I kept thinking during this show was how in November and December of 2001 and most of 2002, people kept saying, and you would see written everywhere: “Never forget.” On billboards and screensavers, T-shirts and posters. All with huge American flags. Never forget.

I had forgotten. I think many of us have. Until now.

Flowers, bagpipes, prayers and reminiscences marked ceremonies in Napa, American Canyon and Yountville on Saturday to commemorate the two decades since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

These firefighters went fearlessly into the heart of the unknown to save lives during 9/11. A look at the firefighters from the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, who traveled across the country from California to help in the valiant efforts on 9/11 attacks.

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