There is little doubt that journalist Thomas F. Flynn and everyone involved in the making of “Bikeman: A 9/11 Play” have their hearts in the right place in their attempt to commemorate the World Trade Center tragedy. Sad to say, “Bikeman” is a pretentious, self-absorbed slab of poetical drama that would seem hilariously bad were it not for its mournful subject.
Currently on view at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, “Bikeman” is derived from Flynn’s personal experiences on the morning of September 11. An Emmy Award-winning television writer and producer associated with CBS News, Flynn pedaled his bike downtown to the site of the catastrophe where he witnessed the horror until he was overwhelmed in the aftermath of the initial collapse. Flynn managed to escape to safety from the “boiling brimstone avalanche cascading from the tower” and later wrote a slim volume about it, which he has now adapted as a theater piece with director Michael Bush.
A somber Robert Cuccioli portrays Flynn alongside four other actors who depict various unnamed folk and further speak as a chorus. Undertones of Dante’s “Inferno” arise as Flynn’s character and the others gaze upwards and describe representative victims – a banker from India, a Salvadoran dishwasher, a “Wall Street thief” – as they plummet to their deaths while the “frail, flawed tower vomits its guts out high above.” Such heavily overwritten prose is typical of Flynn’s text for this leaden 50-minute event, which is accompanied by a plaintive and percussive score composed by Jonathan Brielle.
Temporarily trapped within a smoky, superheated parking garage, Flynn evokes the dusty victims of Pompeii before he and the others struggle outside into a “shroud of darkness that lingers.” Although Flynn declares himself to be simply “an unprotected wound, sliced with the sting, the hurt, the pain of others,” it is evident that his chronicle of the nightmare is really more all about him than everyone else. Eventually Flynn and his ever-present bike join other survivors as “we walk on a blanket of death in mortal silence” away from the carnage.
Phew. These deadly proceedings are gravely, sometimes formally staged by Bush against a tall wall of opaque panels that separates and pivots to suggest the interior of the towers and similar locations. James Noone’s setting is duskily lit by Kevin Adams and their understated visuals contrast with the overblown script. Otherwise it is painful to witness the tragedy of 9/11 rendered in such a lamentable fashion.
“Bikeman: A 9/11 Play” continues at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers St., New York. Call (212) 220-1460 or visit www.bikeman911.com.