NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The moments after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were some of the most horrific and tragic in New York City history, and a group of artists and performers are trying to make sure the memories of the victims live on.
“Bikeman: A 9/11 Play” tells the story of Thomas Flynn, a former producer for the CBS Evening News, who found himself racing to the story that day. But in his journey by bicycle, he also found himself battling to survive.
Flynn, who went on to write the play, joined Robert Cuccoli – the man who is playing him onstage – to talk about the production with CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu Saturday.
Flynn recalled the morning of the attacks. He was at his home in Greenwich Village at the time, and said he had no doubt the city and the nation were under attack when a plane flew right overhead.
“It was no question in my mind. It was low, and I say in the play, loud and determined. It was doing exactly what it wanted to do,” Flynn said. “Plus, as most New Yorkers know, planes don’t fly in the middle of the island. They fly in the rivers. And it was going downtown, which never happens. Plus 1993, we’d had the attack down there. And so putting the two together, I told my wife, ‘We’re under attack.’ And I headed down there.”
Once he arrived, Flynn saw the scene of chaos and horror firsthand as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were in flames.
For a while there, it was mostly flame and people, of course, jumping from the towers; people screaming for help that they weren’t going to get. And then the tower collapsed right where I had found the cameraman — he was Merrill Lynch’s cameraman, but I hired him and he was shooting for me, or for us,” Flynn said. “And then the tower collapsed, and we got trapped into a parking garage and almost didn’t get out of there.”
After the experience, Flynn began writing a poem about what he’d witnessed and suffered through. The poem grew long enough to turn into a book, which in turn inspired the play.
The production recounts Flynn’s journey from journalist to participant as he fought for survival after the South Tower fell.
Actor Cuccioli is a New Yorker, but was in Seattle at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He has appeared previously in “Les Miserables,” “Jekyll and Hyde,” and “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark,” but said “Bikeman” has a serious and special meaning.
As an actor, I have done a lot of entertainments, but what I always strive to do is something that means something; that’s important; that affects people, and this is certainly a subject matter that’s one of the most important of our time. And it has been very difficult to do; to talk about. No one’s really done a piece like this before,” Cuccoli said. “And I think it’s time for it. And I think that this, because of the beauty of tom’s language, and the way that we do the piece – it’s a very impressionistic way, that I think it is done tastefully, and safely, and beautifully, and it’s something that I was really drawn to do.”
During previews for the play, many people wanted to stay and talk. Flynn said part of the purpose of the play was to get the dialogue to continue.
“This is an amazing performance. A woman who saw the show said to me afterwards – she said, ‘I see everything.’ She’s one of those New Yorkers who goes to every single thing – in Brooklyn and New York downtown, everywhere. She says, ‘This is the best thing I’ve seen in years,’ which I took as a compliment,” Flynn said. “But then she said, ‘Do you know if Robert was in England, he would be knighted for his performance?’ It is a very special performance.”
Some of the proceeds from the ticket sales for the play will be going to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The museum has adopted “Bikeman” as a play, as a presentation as a theatrical adjunct in addition to the memorial and museum.
The play is running at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center, at 199 Chambers St.
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