Save for three chairs, a table, and a desk, the RPI Playhouse stage lay barren. The lighting and effects are minimal. The Players themselves are similarly plain in their garb; members of the audience would mistake them for one of their own. Thus is the frightening nuance of Suicide, Incorporated: how relevant to the average man and woman the story is.
Director Jocelyn Griser ’16 along with fellow producer Jeremy Feldman ’16 discovered Suicide, Incorporated during a perusal of the Internet’s selection of Black Box shows, in the endeavor to create a more intimate and meaningful show. “We do a lot of the theater that’s very fun. It gets people very excited, which has its own purpose, and it’s very good,” said Feldman. “[However,] we haven’t done, recently, the sort that makes you think.” The subjects pondered here are more than the single action of suicide, but what causes suicide, what puts people on the road to recovery, what pushes people over the edge, how different individuals deal with their loved one’s suicide, and ultimately, how to prevent it from happening.
The play opens with leading role of Jason, played by Kyle Johnson ’16, who is being interviewed for the position of suicide note editor. Jason’s character is parts sympathetic and caring and parts defiant and individualistic. In this way, he acts as the foil of both his boss, Scott, played by Joelle Woodson ’16, who is an apathetic and self-centered character interested in exploiting the pain of clients for her personal monetary gain, and fellow employee, Perry, played by Bryce Miller ’16. Perry is weak-willed, yet ever loyal to his boss despite the verbal and mental abuse he is placed under. While the play is pervasively serious with themes bordering on the macabre, Perry’s character offers sporadic comic relief throughout.
Main character Jason proves to be not only a foil of Scott and Perry, but also of his brother Tommy, played by Brendan Freiler ’18, and his client, Norm, played by Feldman. In the play, Jason is the paragon of responsibility while college-aged Tommy participates in wastrel-like activities such as playing poker, partying, and pulling all-nighters. Norm and Jason’s relationship is that of client and counselor. One of the main plots focuses on Jason’s attempts to prevent Norm from carrying out his suicide under the guise of helping him (Norm) edit his suicide note. Along the way, Jason insists that Norm write down positive things in his life. In every interaction between the two, Jason acts as the positive, asking helpful questions while not being overbearing, and Norm acts as the negative, pointing out the problems and going into panic attacks over them.
The seemingly simple plot delivers a heavy emotional blow. Miller said, “The topic hits very close to home, I think, especially at a high pressure environment like RPI. There are […] far more people than we realize that are dealing with depression, with any kind of mental illness, with suicidal ideation…at any given moment.”
This play is more than a show the Players are presenting; it has been an on-going project, starting from the end of the last academic year, chosen to be presented during this time due to the fact that it is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month so it can be “not just a show, but a message to the rest of campus” said Feldman. He goes on to say more: “We’ve been very grateful to the counseling center, to the Chapel and Cultural Center, and to Active Minds, which is the student mental health group on campus.” On the nights of the Players’ performances, Active Minds will have a presentation in the lobby before the show, with stories about suicide, and the impact it has on college students. The C+CC will also be providing religious counseling.
Since the script was originally written for an all-male cast, Griser altered the charazzcter of Scott and the Police Officer to be women. When asked about whether or not he was satisfied with Griser’s directing, Johnson replied with: “Oh yes! Yes, of course… she hasn’t been strict about [having] to do it this one way. She’s allowed us to put our own personal interpretations into it.” Griser certainly remains on scene, standing in for the place of Woodson (who plays Scott) during the dress rehearsal Monday night. As far as the performance itself, the Players’ presentation, along with the gripping story, will enthrall the audience. It is clear that the actors are in tune with their characters. Kyle Johnson says “I have his emotions. When I’m done with the show, a lot of those emotions will carry over. The character still lingers.” And the emotions one experiences vicariously through the story and its elements too will linger and cause audience members to question the moral behavior of themselves and those around them.
Words to do this play justice simply will never come to mind. And so, with a simple plea, this writer encourages you, reader, to go and become a watcher, and then a thinker.