This is what happened to Donnie Cole, the main protagonist in the World Premier production of “A Hard Wall at High Speed” at the Astoria Performing Arts Center.
The play, which opens up APAC’s 11th season, centers around Donnie (played by Tom O’Keefe), a Floridian with a picture-perfect life, who in the wake of the tragic attacks, sees his world turn upside down and watches as the world turns against him.
A charter pilot with an intense love of flying, Donnie has the perfect family. His wife is about to give birth, he owns his own home, is one of best flight instructors and is well respected in his community. But when it is revealed that he trained the attackers who flew the planes into the World Trade towers, an unexpected burst of media attention turns the loving community against him.
Through no fault of his own, other than wanting to teach everyone how to fly and his maxim of not judging others, he ended up misjudging the motives of the two men he taught and ultimately bares the burden that he indirectly caused his country to be attacked.
The play shines a poignant spotlight on how one man’s mistake changed the nation and how one person’s decisions could affect the world. The play also brings to the forefront, forgiveness, hysteria and how judgments, misunderstanding, and fear can fuel discourse for the worse, and even more, kill a man while he is still living.
“A Hard Wall at High Speed” was written by former Hockey player-turned playwright, Ashlin Halfnight. The idea was born out of a story Halfnight heard through a friend of his. A flight instructor in Florida, who, while drinking in a bar one night, told her his story, which she then relayed to Halfnight.
“As someone who lived through 9/11 in New York, I never thought about it from that point of view,” Halfnight said.
“A Hard Wall at High Speed” is one of many of Halfnight’s plays. And to him, the play is a catalogue of where America was and where it is now.
As Donnie Cole’s life crumbles, he loses his job, his reputation and his motivation. His family and character, even his motives, are often the victims of personal and painful public attacks.
He begins to lose touch with himself and his family but ultimately pulls himself out with some tough love and motivation from his wife, June (played by Sarah Kate Jackson).
All of the characters in the play serve collectively as one protagonist; it is the hysteria and the national fear and rush to judgment that act as the antagonist in this play.
This working-class drama reels the audience in to the lives of an otherwise normal couple, who now have to live with constant intrusion and accusations. One could easily root for Donnie but at times, his unwillingness to move past the judgments, move on with his life and try to do something else to support his family, fills one with the urge to shake him up.
The cast is stellar and Tom O’Keefe and Sarah Kate Jackson bring one of the unlikeliest, and most compelling stories in the wake of a tragedy to life.
Donnie Cole’s downward spiral acts as a parallel to America’s own fall from grace, and how one – whether one man or one nation – rebuilds and reinvents itself out of destruction. Ashlin Halfnight’s thought-provoking play is not one to be missed.
“A Hard Wall at High Speed” will play a limited engagement at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, located at 30-44 Crescent Street, Astoria, NY 11102. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The play runs through Saturday, November 19. Tickets are $18 and are available online at www.apacny.org or by calling 866-811-4111.