It's possible there's an overriding rule about the extent of the reaction New Yorkers had to 9/11. Unless they knew someone killed in the Twin Towers collapse, the depth of their devastation may be in direct proportion to how close they were to ground zero.
("Devastation" is the right word, of course, not only for New Yorkers but also for the country's entire population.)
Thomas F. Flynn was very close. His devastation was unfathomably profound. An Emmy-winning CBS news producer working then with Dan Rather, he lived so near the World Trade Center that when he saw the first low-flying plane heading that way and then crash into the north building, he grabbed a pen, a notebook, his phone and his bike and immediately headed south.
What happened to him subsequently was so terrifying that part of his fight for recovery from it required him to transfer his thoughts and feelings into a short "epic" poem he called Bikeman. Michael Bush and Flynn have now adapted his work -- Bush directing -- as an indisputably moving 50-minute stage narrative, at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
When Flynn (Robert Cuccioli) arrives at his tragic destination, joining the horrified crowds gathered to watch (all other parts played by Elizabeth Ramos, Richard Topol, Irungu Mutu and Angela Pierce), he's initially mesmerized by the Twin Towers occupants trapped on the highest floors, many of them diving to their deaths.
When the first Tower collapses, he takes shelter in an underground parking garage along with others but comes to fear, along with them, that they've been trapped. At his spiritual nadir, Flynn thinks he'll die there, but when his fellow strangers, who refer to him as "Bikeman," discover a way out, he joins them and the dust- and ash-covered throngs beginning their ghostly march first to the Hudson River at the west and then north. Still wheeling his bike, he rediscovers that the world does have colors. It's not only dominated by the sepulchral shades of gray he'd experienced for the life-altering past half hour or so.
There are moments in his poem when Flynn steps over the line from importance to portentous, but for the most part he's channeled his sinister adventure into something inescapably gripping. Early in his description of the escapade, he says, "Survival is the absence of death." Towards the end and contemplating the effects the nightmare-like day had on him, he writes, "We did not live. We just did not die."
Because of the hell into which he was thrown with thousands, Flynn conjures moments reminiscent of Dante's Inferno. There are even echoes in his lines of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. And what could be more understandable?
The elegant production, designed by James Noone, features a tall, three-part grid on which smoke clouds and the like are projected. The wall is often pulled about and rotated to reveal a staircase suggesting the fated Twin Towers stairwells.
The four supporting actors are the ones pushing the set pieces. That's when they're not effectively portraying the many witnesses with whom Tom comes into stunned company. As Tom, Cuccioli never gets on the bike, but as he guides it back and forth and in nervous circles, he gives a performance of great weight, persuasion and nobility. He matches -- and honors -- the power of Thomas Flynn's compulsive reminiscence.