It is a taboo topic- suicide. But unfortunately, because of its prevalence, we all seem connected to, we know someone, or have been directly affected, by this epidemic. Some of the facts are hard to swallow, that we loose one person to suicide every minute. That there are risk factors that make someone more prone to it than others, and all these things are true; albeit hard to hear. I am big proponent of talking about things that others shun and think they can sweep under the rug. It is like Harry Potter, don’t say “he who must not be named,” same his name! (Voldemort) One of the biggest myths for Mythbusters 101 (take notes): talking about suicide does NOT increase the risk or chance- it often has the opposite effect, and can work as a preventive factor.
“The Way Out’ Is a devised piece brought to you by Quarry Theatre. Conceived and directed by Ryan Clark, with an original musical score by Patrick Alexander, three actors take you through seventeen scenes that all deal with the common theme of suicide. The deaths of three prominent celebrities is what triggered the arc of this project (Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams). Since I cannot phrase it any better than the Director, here is what his note says, “From March to August we were barraged with stories of survivors, family members, community organizers, health organizations, and mental health professionals. It became clear that our job was to act as a facilitator for these precious stories. We have felt honored that the people from Baltimore and beyond trusted us with their narratives. So tonight, I invite you to listen as we make a humble attempt to convey stories of loss, salvation, pain, love, and hope.”
Before we get into the three actors, let’s talk about the “fourth” member- the live band at the back of the stage. With Stacey Antoine on flute and clarinet, Jonathon Goren on violin, Chanel Whitehead on Cello, Wiliam Zellhofer on Piano and original composition by Patrick Alexander, they underscore the evening with precision. Often serving as a musical accompaniment, the band also takes center stage in a few pieces where it feels more like the actors accompany the music instead of the other way around. The chords are striking, not harmonious in some parts, and often clashy in sound. The representation takes on its own life force to represent the psyche. Suicide is a deeply troubling topic and many of those that consider or succumb to are actually battling demons we cannot fathom. The music is masterful in bringing this to the forefront and reminding you of the turbulence that often lurks behind the smiles.
The three members of the cast, Alex Shade, Deidre McAllister and Laura Holland, all hop in and out of scenes and take on distinct personalities. They utilize a coat rack and shelf on the side and rely on a base costume of black leggings and gray tee shirts with well-placed accessories and props to make each character differ from the previous. Of course, it also helps that they can each master the art of shifting effortlessly from scene to scene and changing speech tempos, posture and minor mannerisms to flesh out their portrayal.
Shakespeare features prominently in these scenes, from Sonnet 29 to Macbeth’s famous soliloquy “Out out brief candle,” to Hamlet’s suicidal question, “to be or not to be.” I was pleasantly surprised (although I shouldn’t be) to see them nail these speeches. I too, as a fellow dork, can recite them from memory. Deidre is creepiest as a black veiled entity menacing a troubled Alex Shade, and is her best as a survivor telling her story. Alex is particularly poignant reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy and as a therapist on the other end of a phone call with a family member. Laura is most memorable as a flaky but lovable college student, and as a sister still grieving.
The only thing on the stage is a series (I think 8 or 9) glass tables. When Alex stands on one in the opening tableau I thought, damn that is one strong table! The constant shifting of the tables sometimes creates couches, chairs, boxes and other pieces for the staging. Other times they work as an assistant for actors to explore in the backdrop while they are discussed in the forefront. But sometimes they are just shifted as an artistic ballet almost in time with the music and to serve as a transition between scenes.
Is the work risky? Yes. Does it have moments that are deep, connected, and possibly scary or triggering for some audience members? Yes. But, it is an essential piece that pertinently deals with a prohibited problem in our society. And since it is cut up into so many scenes, with a running time of 80 minutes with no intermission, no one clip is painfully long to sit through. It is a powerful story that showcases an artistic side, with all that it comes to signify- beauty, pain, suffering, and the human experience rolled into one- what it means to live and carry hope for the future.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Quarry theatre has devised a commanding cut of what it means to deal with suicide, on a personal, and national level. Although born from the tragedy of celebrities, the production resonates with its smaller stories about the loss of sisters, sons and daughters, and friends. A wonderfully constructed artistically moving show that really sings to the soul and shows that we can all overcome, it is just sometimes a rocky process. (I)
Running through August 31st at Theater Project. Running time about 80 minutes with no intermission.