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On 9/11, Horovitz will be onstage in two cities

Playwright is set to appear in NYC, Boston

Israel Horovitz channeled his feelings about Sept. 11, 2001, into “Three Weeks After Paradise,’’ a monologue that is now one part of an updated “monoplay’’ titled “After Paradise’’ Israel Horovitz channeled his feelings about Sept. 11, 2001, into “Three Weeks After Paradise,’’ a monologue that is now one part of an updated “monoplay’’ titled “After Paradise’’ (Shawn Henry)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2011

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On Sept. 11, Israel Horovitz will fly to New York and back.

His one-man play about the aftermath of 9/11, “After Paradise,’’ will be performed in New York and in Gloucester on the anniversary. He’ll introduce the piece in New York in the afternoon and perform half of it in Gloucester in the evening. He says he hopes it’s “just another hectic day.’’

“It didn’t occur to me that I’d be flying on Sept. 11, which isn’t anybody’s dream,’’ he says. “But the ancillary benefit of that is that absolutely nobody seems to be flying . . . so I got a round-trip ticket on Continental for a hundred bucks.’’

A revised version of another Horovitz play, “Fighting Over Beverley,’’ is now playing at Gloucester Stage Company, where it premiered in 1993. The last performance will be the Sept. 11 matinee.

In “Fighting,’’ Beverley and Zelly Shimma (Sandra Shipley and Paul O’Brien) are Gloucester residents: an English war bride and her American husband. Their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Archie (Paddy Swanson), the Englishman Beverley jilted 53 years earlier when she took up with the Yank. Archie announces that he’s here to get her back, as the Shimmas’ daughter Cecily (Denise Cormier) looks on.

Horovitz says “Beverley’’ started out as a three-act play that captured the characters at three different ages, a play he intended to be a valentine to his British wife, Gillian. But at an early reading, it was the third act - the senior years - that really won over the audiences, so he rewrote that act as a full-length play.

The message evolved as well, he says, as Beverley’s story took over: “This particular play that started out to be a very sweet valentine ended up being a very cautionary kind of letter to my daughters - and maybe even to my mother.’’

Although Horovitz is now 72, he says he doesn’t feel any closer to the characters in “Beverley,’’ who are around that age, very much feeling it, and making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

“The honest answer is, I don’t know what 72 means. I don’t feel 72. I’m still very active as an athlete,’’ says the avid golfer and runner. “So, no. I feel like I know these guys, but I don’t feel like I’m in this play. If I took that into psychoanalysis I could find it . . .’’

Horovitz handed over the artistic directorship of Gloucester Stage to Eric Engel beginning with the 2007 season. He’s now founding artistic director and spends comparatively little time in Gloucester. But this year, “Beverley’’ and “After Paradise’’ have him here for two months.

The company puts on one of his plays every couple of years. There’s usually a Horovitz play being performed somewhere, as he has written more than 70. He says his “Sins of the Mother,’’ a critical and commercial success at Gloucester Stage in 2009, has been optioned for a possible Broadway production this season. (Robert Walsh, who starred in “Sins’’ here, directs “Beverley.’’)

In New York, the Horovitz family home is a short distance north of ground zero, and he and Gillian heard the first hijacked jet fly over on 9/11. They didn’t discover the South Tower had been hit, from the other direction, until they rode bicycles over to the banks of the Hudson for a better look. Their then-teenage son Oliver was already at his school very close to the Twin Towers. For a short time - if such a time is ever short - they didn’t know if he was safe. He was, but like so many, Horovitz found himself haunted by the experience. He dreamed repeatedly of a heroic fantasy that placed him aboard one of the hijacked planes. Meanwhile, Oliver was asked to make a video about the experience at the school.

“As soon as he started working on it, I could see he was getting better,’’ Horovitz says. “It’s a very common use of art as therapy. I was seeing this shrink who was coming apart himself because he was mostly working with survivors at that point. . . . So I said to the shrink, you think I should write something? And he looked at me and said, ‘Well, duh, of course.’ ’’

Horovitz channeled his feelings into “Three Weeks After Paradise,’’ essentially a monologue about that awful morning, the event’s effects on family and friends, and how it felt to live in a neighborhood papered with pictures of the missing. He e-mailed it to a few friends and colleagues, and it was widely circulated and quickly taken up for benefit performances. Horovitz filmed a version for the Bravo cable channel.

With the 10th anniversary approaching, Horovitz has written a second piece, “Ten Years After Paradise,’’ that takes a wider-angled look at 9/11’s effect on our country and our world. The works are now separate acts of a single “monoplay,’’ “After Paradise.’’ On Sept. 11, Will Swenson (“Priscilla Queen of the Desert’’) will perform it in a benefit matinee at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York. Horovitz will introduce the work and perhaps appear for a discussion afterward.

Then he will jump on a plane back to Boston, where there’s a different version of “After Paradise’’ planned as a benefit for Gloucester Stage in the evening. Beginning at 8 p.m., a screening of the film of “Three Weeks’’ will be followed by Horovitz reading “Ten Years’’ and a discussion.

Horovitz notes that showing the “Three Weeks’’ film will avoid problems if he’s delayed in transit. But he acknowledges that’s not the main reason they’re using it.

“It breaks my heart to [perform] that. I did it once, for the film, and that was enough,’’ he says. “Why go back there? It was too upsetting.’’

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.

FIGHTING OVER BEVERLEY and AFTER PARADISE At: Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester, through Sept. 11 matinee (“Beverley’’) and on evening of Sept. 11 (“Paradise’’). 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.org