Stephen Girasuolo Moves Beyond The State Of 'Orange Alert'

Connecticut Native Finds Personal Resonance in His Ground Zero Play

Stephen Girasuolo wants you to know that "Orange Alert"is not a play about 9/11.

But it has haunting echoes of that tragic date as it follows six troubled people who work around Ground Zero, living their present-day lives in a state of suspended animation.

The full-length work by the West Haven native and University of Connecticut grad is playing off-Broadway nine blocks from Ground Zero, and continues through Sept. 18. The Equity production, directed by another UConn grad, Leslie Silva, is running at the Algonquin Seaport Theater in the South Street Seaport Mall. The 90-minute play features Robert Funaro (TV's "The Sopranos") and Opal Alladin (of the film "United 93").

"This play is about people who are desperately trying to connect with one another," says the 41-year old actor, writer and filmmaker outside the modest theater overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge.

"These people are trying to fit into this city again, people who are climbing up the ladder, people who may have finally found the right person."

Much of it sounds like Girasuolo's story.

For the past decade, he has led a nomadic, international life and career and says things are finally coming together for him with the play, his career as a filmmaker and with love. (He in engaged to be married to fashion designer Nina Phuong Ha.)

He just quit his day job and recently became a partner in a TV and film company. He is developing a documentary on boxer Leon Spinks. As an actor, he's just completed work in a video game production in which he is featured as a sidekick to the hero in the "Avatar"-like filmed game, "Max Payne 3" (published by Rockstar Games).

"What the play asks is how long can you sit there under an 'Orange Alert,' says Girasuolo, referring to the color-coded warning system that the Office of Homeland Security devised after 9/11. "You've got to make a choice and just go for it. If you don't, you stay in the middle, you play it safe, and you compromise. And life gets diluted."

That's not Girasuolo's style, and for the past several years, he has worked hard to get readings and workshops of his play. He also helped finance the production through an online Kickstarter campaign.

"Stephen has taken the lead in getting this work produced," says Maxwell Williams, a director who regularly works at Hartford Stage and who was involved in several early readings of "Orange Alert." "He's a smart, compelling and good guy who has tremendous potential. He has stuck with this work and remained in control of what happens with it. He really feels for these characters and knows the story he wants to tell."

Sports to Theater

Girasuolo became interested in theater when Tony Amato, a West Haven High School drama teacher, tapped him to audition for Noel Coward's "Private Lives." ("Up to then, I was into baseball, football and jai alai — remember jai-alai?")

The youth, an only child, became hooked and ended up acting in seven plays, which earned him a scholarship to the theater department at UConn.

After graduating from college in 1992, Girasuolo moved to Manhattan, where he struggled as an actor for many years. He made friends and connections and had mentors, among them famed director Joseph Chaikin, who encouraged him to write, and playwright Tom Noonan, who helped shape his skills as a dramatist.

"From when I was a kid, I wanted to be a storyteller," Girasuolo says.

An early piece was a one-act solo autobiographical play, "Middleman." "It was about a young kid who hung out with three different crowds of people: the hip-hop crowd from Brooklyn, a very preppy crowd from the Upper East Side and a bunch of sports guys from Queens — but he didn't know who he was. It was about me finding my own identity."

Another early short work, "Rocks in My Pocket," was about his father (who died two months ago in West Haven, after a series of strokes).

When 9/11 happened, Girasuolo was living in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan, trying to get work as an actor, but mostly "temping" for financial and law firms in the World Trade Center area. ("But not the Twin Towers," he says.)

Featured Stories