Taffety Punk Theatre Company, one of the region’s boldest and most vital troupes, this weekend offers up a brief 10-year anniversary revival of Artistic Director Marcus Kyd’s “suicide.chat.room.” The unrelenting hourlong production is a searing and honest interrogation of a subject many of us are still afraid to talk about, devised with bluntness and a refusal to offer simple answers, false hope, and anodyne homilies.
The movement-based piece, with new choreography by Paulina Guerrero, has no clear through line and only the faintest outline of a traditional plot. Kyd takes the viewer inside a space that has no physical definition — a discussion forum on the early Internet, before the cyber-realm was sanitized and homogenized, where a group of people who have never met IRL find companionship and understanding in their shared desire to end their lives.
The unrelenting hourlong production is a searing and honest interrogation of a subject many of us are still afraid to talk about…
Kyd effectively captures the anonymity and selective exposure to online discussion. We discover only as much as the characters choose to share of themselves. For most, their reasons for contemplating suicide remain unclear, since they choose not to reveal them. It is also never clear which, if any, of the chatroom regulars are reliable narrators. How close is each to actually trying to “catch the bus,” in their shared euphemism, and how many are just seeking a friend? Is that angry guy sincere, or a troll? Is he a guy at all?
Disjointed fragments of their messages comprise the show’s script, as chatroom newcomer lostbooks — the characters are of course known only by their screen names — takes tentative steps into this new community. Dialogues in the form of message threads are set against the troublingly effective score by local band Beauty Pill (which is being made available for the first time as an album in tandem with the anniversary production).
The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop black box is put to effective use in creating a claustrophobic vibe, with performers charging up against walls both visible and invisible. The remounted production also has an aura of taking place outside the bounds of time. Kimberly Gilbert, a founding member of Taffety Punk who was one of the originators of the 2010 production, returns as lostbooks, working with a team of actors/dancers who are new to the material. The human desperation on display is timeless, but the feel of the Internet of the show crosses eras; in addition to the 2010 text, the movement sequences are underscored by clipped and overlapping recordings of text borrowed from real chatrooms from as far back as the 1990s.
Gilbert’s lostbooks is the most obviously vulnerable of the chatroom crew, and her sincerity and openness opens up a connection to Connor Padilla’s Hieronymous. They are countered by Charlotte Vaughn Raines’s Nightshade, who takes a scalpel to what she sees as the pretentions of the group, angrily and repeatedly imploring her traveling companions to just get on “the bus” already.
Kyd does not insult the audience, nor his characters, by pretending to offer easy answers or any at all. When a chatroom regular vanishes, it is never clear if that person has just signed off, switched screen names, or actually taken drastic and final action. This intense stage aims at and achieves truth — which is not the same thing as finding answers.
Running Time: One hour with no intermission.
“suicide.chat.room” is in a limited run through February 29, 2010, at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th Street SE in Washington. Click here for tickets and information.