With Their Eyes is the text
of a performance created by the students and staff of Stuyvesant High School, which
is just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. The words were taken from interviews with a
cross section of other students and staff from the school. This approach was inspired by the work of
Anna Deavere Smith, who is known for her plays Fires in the Mirror: Crown
Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, and House
Arrest. In these works, actors
speak carefully selected parts from interviews of people who have interesting
or striking reflections on the topic, and the actors take on the vocal
inflections and characteristics of the original speaker. (A somewhat similar approach was used in The
Vagina Monologues.) It was the
actors who did the interviews, transcribed them, and they also kept the
original recordings of the interviews in order to make their performance as
close to the original as possible. The
interviewees attended the performances, which took place on February 8 and 9 of
There are twenty-five interviews
here, and each is preceded by a short description of the interviewee and his or
her mannerisms, many accompanied by photographs of the performers dressed as
the interviewees. The people who talk
include students from all years of the high school, two from a special
education school within the Stuyvesant High School, some teachers,
administrators, and maintenance workers.
They are from diverse backgrounds and they have a variety of
perspectives. Reading through the book
cant have the same impact as viewing the theatrical performance, and I hope
that eventually this is made available in audiobook form or on video/DVD. Nevertheless, its an impressive work,
giving a sense of the very personal reactions the interviewees had to the
original attack and the events that followed.
Some had profound thoughts concerning our society today, while others
had far narrower perspectives limited to their own lives.
Many students saw the planes fly
into the World Trade Center and experienced at first hand the worry about being
in danger from the attack, and they talk about how this affected them. But for me, the most memorable piece is from
a senior, Max Willens, called Safety Net, expressing revulsion about the way
that Ground Zero has been turned into a tourist attraction. He says, The pictures, the pictures were
probably what did it for me. There were
these disposable cameras, the kind that people, you know, whip out for trips to
Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, you know, those yellow plastic things, you know,
were everyone crowds around and the flashes make those little annoying yellow
sounds. Heartfelt articulations of
peoples reactions such as this makes With Their Eyes a powerful
collection of narratives that deserves a wide readership.
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.