BWW Review: SUICIDE.CHAT.ROOM Revived at Taffety Punk
Raised by punk music, trained in classical theater, the creators of the Taffety Punk Theatre Company found its voice a decade ago with an original work that was more of a third element: dance.
"suicide.chat.room" combined the stark, heartbreaking and real messages from an online community with urgent movement, rolling with disillusion, reaching for meaning and cut asunder with pain.
Directed and conceived by Marcus Kyd and choreographed by Paulina Guerrero with Erin Mitchell Nelson, it was revived very briefly this weekend for a 10th anniversary outing.
All of the cast members were new except for company member Kimberly Gilbert, reprising her central role. The other thing new was that the striking, largely instrumental electronic music soundtrack by the notable D.C. band Beauty Pill is available for the first time on vinyl and digital download.
Pity that the band was not there to play it live as well, but there was scarcely enough room in the black box space at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop to allow the dancers to fully move without crashing into the walls. The dancers are clad in black as well (except for Connor Padilla's red kneepads) and that's where Chris Curtis' stark lighting design plays such a crucial role (for a work that essentially was no set).
The expansive and intensely physical moves of the six talented dancers, that also included Omar D. Cruz, Safi Harriott, Charlotte Vaughn Raines and Kathryn Zoerb, would seem to preclude line readings as well, but they all contribute over microphones placed at diagonal ends of the performance space, or yelled out loud somehow as they continue their energetic movement. They echo the words taken from the chatrooms documentary style without losing their breath.
A strange community is formed from this combination of desperate voices at the end of the internet, where the suicidal come to trade information on execution, commiserate on the state of the world, or to simply listen.
If anyone can understand what brings a person to these depths, they do.
"Welcome," they often tell a newcomer. "Sorry you're here. "
Judgment is withheld, but there is a bit of yelling, too, as when someone tells of a plan gone awry only to be told that spelling out on the internet might have tipped people off to stop it.
There are some continuing characters through the piece, masked by their online handles. There is sympathy, and there is sniping at a suspected troll. They talk of "getting on the bus" to their own oblivion. Others are waiting at the bus stop.
There is something that sounds a bit dated about the piece, from various computer terms like SMS message or even the idea of a "chat room" for anything. The methods of their demise seem to predate the opioid crisis that would kill so many who wanted to go (and those who didn't).
Still, the very questions it raises, particularly among the young, and that there can be discussion about a subject many still don't want to face, makes "suicide.chat.room" the kind of thing that ought to be revived more often than every 10 years, and run longer when it is.
Running time: 50 minutes, no intermission.
Photo: Kimberly Gilbert in the original production of "suicide.chat.room." Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
"suicide.chat.room" by Taffety Punk Theater Company ran from Feb. 26-29 at the Capitol Hills Arts Workshop, 547 7th St. SE. The work's soundtrack, "Sorry You're Here" by Beauty Pill, is available on vinyl and digital download. Information online.
Those having thoughts of suicide should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or going online.