BWW Review: Hand2Mouth's THE LAZARUS COMPLEX Mines Real-Life Suicides for Insights into the Will to Die
Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of about 45,000 people every year. And for every one of those suicides, there are 25 additional attempts. Yet, suicide is still a highly taboo topic. We only seem to talk about it when someone famous kills themselves.
Hand2Mouth Theatre's THE LAZARUS COMPLEX, now playing in repertory with THE ART OF BLUSHING, seeks to change that. Both plays are part of a larger project by writer/creator Ben Moorad called "Envelope of Suicides." The project was inspired by an envelope full of newspaper clippings about suicides and suicide attempts his grandfather collected between 1941 and 1948 in New Britain, Connecticut.
Moorad uses the real stories to explore the reasons why some people choose to take their own life. In some cases, the motivations seem clear -- like the WWII veteran who had difficulty returning to civilian life -- while others are mysterious -- like the 17-year-old woman who apparently made herself a late night snack before turning on the kitchen gas. He seeks answers in patterns. For example, almost half of the the people attempted suicide by gas -- why? For the people who didn't succeed, what where their lives like afterward?
Moorad did a huge amount of research into the lives of the very real people behind the newspaper snippets. The way he interweaves their stories with his own -- of getting to know his grandfather, discovering the clippings, and dealing with the suicide of a friend -- makes the narrative very personal. And in shining a light on these subjects, THE LAZARUS COMPLEX asks us to reflect not only on what causes some people to want to die but on our perceptions of death and dying as part of the human condition. I found it incredibly powerful.
Now for the practical bits. This isn't a fully staged performance. It's a reading by four actors -- Ben Moorad, Arlena Barnes, David Bellis-Squires, and Jennie Spector. I would have preferred it as a monologue. There's no dialogue (it's more like an essay read aloud), so the reason for dividing it into four parts is unclear. Moorad gives the most engaging, most emotional performance, and I would very happily have watched him perform the entire piece.
There's also a score performed live by Will Hattman, Courtney Sheedy, and Wilson Vedinar. The music is beautiful and haunting, though in the tiny Shout House studio, I found it alternated between too intense (drowning out the performers) and too calming for the small, warm room.
Overall, I very much enjoyed THE LAZARUS COMPLEX, and I'm excited to see how the larger project continues to evolve. If you go, and you should, I recommend you sit on the side away from the band to ensure you'll be able to hear the actors.
THE LAZARUS COMPLEX runs through November 17. More details and tickets here.
Image by Mike Pham