By Dustin Slaughter
I would like to salute
The ashes of American flags
And all the fallen leaves
Filling up shopping bags
– Ashes of American Flags, Wilco
The scene: Present Day. A spartan stage with nothing but a swivel chair and a white folding screen with “9/11: Never Forget” painted in mind-numbingly bold black lettering. A 25 year old woman enters, rolling a packed suitcase onto the stage, prepared to give an interview for a video-taped oral history project as part of the unveiling of One World Trade Center.
The 45 minute This is Not About 9/11 then quickly becomes a reflection on American paternalism and its attendant exploitation and propaganda; a daughter’s grief; and most importantly, a raging perseverance borne from all three.
Sarah Van Auken’s practically solo performance takes the audience on an extremely personal journey as the actual daughter of a Cantor Fitzgerald stock trader who lost her father to the attacks in Lower Manhattan. Hers is a tale about so much more than that, though: being manipulated by a news media bent on wringing every last tear out of 9/11 families in service to a grotesque faux-patriotism, while failing to actually listen to what these families have learned from tragedy. As director/producer Ellie Marissa Ruttenberg told me:
Being a close friend of Sarah’s and having had many long talks into the night about this specific subject matter, I know that she’s felt her story hasn’t been told.
It is a performance mixed with rage, incredulity, and strength, as she refuses to pander to the veneer of sentimentality initially forced on her by the faceless, booming voice of the interviewer (played by Bob Stineman), who may be more interested in collecting her grief than in actually listening to what she has to say.
You would be mistaken to think that this production falls into the trap of heavy-handed polemic, however. Thanks to Ruttenberg‘s skillful direction and Van Auken’s writing and performance, This Is Not About 9/11 avoids browbeating the audience, using the spaces in between words to say so much more, and concluding with a coup de grace that will have you in tears not just for this young woman’s loss, but perhaps more importantly, a lesson she desperately wants to impart, one a post-9/11 America refuses to learn.
This Is Not About 9/11 has three more nights (June 23rd, 27th, and 28th) at Aux Performance Space as part of SoLo Festival 2014. Be sure to reserve tickets by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, as seating is very limited.