By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer
One of South Los Angeles’ leading arts venue’s will mark the 12th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, by hosting a renowned play, which is billed as a love letter to New York.
The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 Washington Blvd., will present Sarah Tuft’s “110 Stories,” for one night only starting at 8 p.m., and all net proceeds of the event will benefit Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to the military — which is supported by first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood celebrities such as Ed Asner, Gary Sinise and Ben Affleck.
Based on firsthand survivor accounts, the play is, according to Stelio Savante, creative producer and original cast member, apolitical and told from the point of view of the everyday men and women caught up in that fateful day. It is directed by Rudolf Buitendach and narrated by TV presenter Sal Masekela, son of legendary South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela.
Lasting 90 minutes, “110 Stories” follows a firefighter through the morning of 9/11 and into recovery through a blend of the words and reflections of 30 characters, including an iron worker, a police officer, a homeless couple, a photo journalist, a police canine handler, a doctor, a body worker, a chaplain and a volunteer.
The eclectic cast — previously represented by luminaries like Samuel L. Jackson, Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, John Turturro and Katie Holmes — will feature portrayals by Steven Bauer (“Ray Donovan”), Diane Venora (“Heat”), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (“Death Proof”), John Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and Ernie Hudson (“Miss Congeniality II”).
In an phone interview Monday with The Independent, Savante, who noted that the play had in the past been presented at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (2011) and The Geffen Playhouse in L.A. (2010), said he was looking for a more “everyman” audience this year and the Nate Holden Theatre perfectly fit the bill.
“There were only three or four theaters that fit our budget,” he explained. “And I also felt I wanted a more diverse cast and this theater stood out head and shoulders above the rest. So I met with the theatre director and she was already familiar with the history of the show. There was still a lot of negotiating and we signed [the deal] three weeks later.”
Meanwhile, Savante (“Ugly Betty”) plays iconic photographer Bolivar Arellano, whose haunting images that filled the pages of the New York Post and New York Times.
“Two hours after the World Trade Center got hit, our playwright was conducting interviews with many of the aforementioned people; homeless people, and innocent bystanders,” Savante said. “What she found through these stories were so fascinating because they weren’t being covered by the media. She edited them into a play and that’s how ‘110’ got its legs and we partnered with charities every time to raise money.”
Savante noted that the play had changed over time, but that the Nate Holden performance was going to be unique, featuring a significant amount of audio lighting and video cues.
“The [accounts] are basically delivered directly to the audience,” he added. “It’s personal and simultaneous. So the audience is through the course of one hour and 45 minutes hearing all these people who identified with 9/11.”
That includes Savante, who was born and raised in South Africa, but New York has been his home for the last 20 years, minus a short stint in Los Angeles when he had a recurring role on “Ugly Betty.”
“I was only nine blocks away from the World Trade Center when it happened,” he recalled. “With the Arellano role, as an actor I had to find out what drove him. It was his responsibility to record what was happening, not allowing himself to get caught up. But he couldn’t help it; he ended up saving several people.
“While you can’t do much with how you physically resemble the person you’re portraying, you can attempt to capture what’s in their heart and what drives them in their core, that’s 90 percent of the battle.”
Almost with bitter irony, this year’s anniversary comes as the world somewhat holds its breath during the Syrian crisis, events not lost on Savante.
“That’s a good point,” he said. “It’s been 12 years and here we are dealing with another tumultuous Middle Eastern country that affects the U.S. I think as audiences sit down in the theater to watch it, it will have even more relevance.”