CKP’s “The Suicide Club” explores the existential question
Published on 21 October 2019 | Written by Kathy McAuley | Print | Email
The scene is 1860s London but it could be anytime and anywhere. The subject is suicide, a problem not only in the 19th century but the 20th and 21st. The fact is that suicide is a major American health problem and responsible for a regular drop in life expectancy.
The questions most frequently asked are “why?” and “why not?”
In “The Suicide Club,” the Crowded Kitchen Players tackle this subject with an innovative new drama by Ara Barlieb that considers the plight of a middle-aged woman on the verge of ending it all. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde of a play with Act One somewhat light-heartedly exploring the loss of a will to live and Act Two bringing forth the desperation of too many that can lead to this most final of all life’s decisions.
Barlieb says he was inspired by a trio of Robert Louis Stevenson stories in which he found his title, but he has also been involved in local suicide prevention efforts for many years. He and producing partner Pamela McLean Wallace developed the idea of bringing this taboo subject to the stage. The play explores the existential question but, in a bow to the real world, finds no answers.
At opening night Oct. 18, Allison E. Frantz, Coordinator at Lehigh County Suicide Prevention Task Force, introduced the show with shocking local statistics and offered to chat with anyone who wanted during the intermission and there are plans to have other experts there at each performance. ZStairs
The drama itself introduces us to Adelaide, a wealthy middle-aged woman, superbly played by Trish Cippoleti, who believes she has lost her femininity and her spouse after undergoing cancer surgery.
Husband Alfred (David “Oz” Oswald) is convincing as a committed bon vivant who, though he obviously loves his wife, either doesn’t listen or cannot hear her distress. When they find the Suicide Club that promises to end her torment, he agrees to join as a lark but is soon shocked to learn how seriously she pursues its purpose.
Enter The President of the club, regally played by Will Alexander Jr., the marketing genius who found a need and filled it, all the while making a tidy profit. Alexander looms over his scenes with a menace that is at once seductive and frightening.
Carla Hadley portrays a flirtatious victim-recruiter for the club and Donald M. Swan Jr. is a kind of master of ceremonies, a role that seems perfect for this veteran of countless Valley theatricals. Sharon Ferry is delightful as Lady Malthus, a sort of Mme. Defarge who believes she is merely a witness -- not a victim -- to the club’s final solution.
During rehearsals, Barlieb got the intriguing idea to ask actors who had experienced their own or others’ suicidal thoughts to write their own cameo roles, explaining their perspectives in brief but moving monologs. Jeremiah Anschau, Bruce F. Brown, Dawn Daignault, Tom Epstein, Remy Kayal, Alexandra Racines, and Florence Taylor tell their personal stories in turn, in varied detail but ending with the same conclusion --that death is preferable to the agony of existence.
Like Barlieb’s recent plays considering the subjects of sexual assault and child abuse, “The Suicide Club” is no laugh riot. But with this, the 80th CKP presentation, he has created a world in which actors can tackle difficult subjects with highly original plots that engage, entertain and educate – all without preaching.