How would you feel if your entire life was summed up by a single number? A suicide statistic. Lauren M. Stover of Elephant Room Productions was inspired to tell the stories behind the numbers after watching a youtube performance of “The Destruction Artist,” which is a monologue from A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, part of The Vagina Monologues project. “We were taken by the personal retelling of the story, the breaking the fourth wall and the exposure and vulnerability of the character,” she says. “When it came to thinking of which topic we wanted to address it was not much of a discussion, as we all knew we wanted to talk about suicide.”
The resulting project is a gallery of living art to tell various stories at the same time which will run as part of the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Nine playwrights contributed (see interview here) and I was so moved that I asked them to share with me the essence of their plays. Maybe these quotations from the nine wide-ranging plays will lead to discussions that we always wanted to have with each other, but never did—before it is too late. Let’s break the silence.
Henrik Eger: Some of the quotes from your plays on suicide are so focused that they have a profound impact on an audience. Could you quote a passage that presents the essence of your play?
David Meyers (Broken): “I just wanted to be happy. To be part of it . . .”
Dano Madden (Jason Dotson): “I saw you fail and fail and fail and try and try and try. I saw your inability to recognize talent within yourself.”
Henrik Eger: Some writers give themselves permission to handle a tough topic with in-your-face language.
Daryl Banner (The Problem with Mickey): “In high school, everyone talks shit about everyone. [. . .] you rub shoulders with these people all day . . . teens are going to bully each other. [. . .] We hate seeing those groups of people we don’t belong to [. . .] We’re all a bunch of fuckin’ performers. Me, me, me. I’m cool, you’re not. [. . .] I finally started asking the real questions. Did we do this? [. . .] Did we all do this to him?”
Henrik: Some of you presented the perspective of a survivor who tries to come to terms with a person’s suicide.
Chris G. Ulloth (Museum Bar): “And then you think, maybe that’s the difference between you and I. Maybe you have trouble caring about things that will be gone soon.”
Bridget Mundy (Dark Windows): “Do you think people realize when they look at windows, [. . .] windows to a dark room, do you wonder if people know that they could potentially [. . .] [be] looking into someone’s eyes? Looking into the life and death of a moment in time?”
Henrik: Sometimes the voice of a character and that of the playwright seem to merge.
Brian Grace-Duff (I Forget What Eight Was For): “None of this is me. I’m really an artist, visual one, charcoals mostly. [. . .] And not all artists are suicidal. Sorry. That’s my own . . . personal . . . I just feel strongly about people knowing that. Labels. Crazy. Crazy-artist.”
Kevin White (Rob): “I hope that one day mental health issues are not such a stigma that they’re ignored, swept under the rug, and result in situations like mine. That’s all I can do right now: hope, and that drives me fucking crazy. There’s no answer right now. But I’m going to make one.”
Henrik: What image did you use to make the final act visible?
Kat Wilson (The SS Marty):“Tom and Reggie would eventually make their way into the tiny tub, taken over by bubbles and boats and their ‘captain’ Marty. All aboard the bath time ship . . . The SS Marty.”
Brittany Brewer (Casual Rape): “Because the truth of it, the tree’s truth of it, is that it did fall. Rubbed raw by the repeated thrashings of the Lumberjack, Torn down and apart and through by his tactics,
Until it was just staring solemnly up at the sky, bared to the world, Internally begging for “no” to be enough as he continued to bury his blows, The tree was felled by the facade of trust.”
[Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street] September 12-16, 2017; fringearts.com/event/suicide-stories-gallery-untold/
Running time: Two hours with no intermission. Come and go as you please.