Pain. Illness. Death. These are all parts of our lives. All too often the socially unacceptable topics along these lines creep in unnoticed and are swept away into taboos. Suicide becomes one of those un-discussable topics, the white elephant in the room as it were. The founding Artistic Director of Wolf Pack Theatre Company is pushing to change that convention with a brand new work entitled Masquerade. Playwright and Director William Leary embarks on a journey with a cast of six to create an honest conversation about the topic of suicide with his compelling new work; the intense drama focusing around one family’s aftermath when their beloved son takes his own life without warning or reason. The raw emotional development that surfaces in the time of grievous tragedy exposes the truth of suicide, reminding theatergoers that it isn’t always a neat package with notes and preventable signs, and that above all it is a fact of life that remains whether it is talked about and discussed or not.
Director and Playwright William Leary has a compassionate and strong message to send. His forthright attempt to present the effects suicide has on a family is remarkably well-penned in the dialogue of the show. There visionary craft of the work speaks for itself; a series of opening and closing monologues that draws the internalized feelings and thoughts of each of the characters impacted out into the open. The staging of the opening and closing scenes, which start and end in darkness respectfully, is laden with theatrical symbology. Portraying the actors in masks so that at first it is unclear who is speaking is a smart tool to translate the feelings of a mother, father, grandmother, pastor, or sibling and make them hold a relativity regardless of what your relationship to the deceased may be.
Structurally, the foundations of the play itself requires a strengthening that is found in the pacing. An easy fix for scenes were dialogue occurs in its natural whirling dervish of continual overlap; driving the pacing to a fuller acceleration would serve the script to its full potential. These miniscule disconnects in slowed conversations, however, does not detract from the important message being delivered, the beautiful writing or the brilliant performances that happen throughout the production.
Leary’s work focuses around six characters and the utter realistic brilliance is that the young man, Kevin, who commits the act is never seen or heard. This draws the focus of the drama to the family that is left behind, struggling to cope with the act itself. Though the story revolves around planning Kevin’s final arrangements, by not featuring Kevin as a character the stories become those of the family; an honest portrayal of every emotional experience during a time of loss of this caliber.
Leary’s craftsmanship in regard to fully creating characters is astounding. Developing multi-dimensional, deeply layered characters into this show, rather than relying on static archetypes allows for theatergoers to relate to the emotions of anguish, grief, guilt, confusion, anger, and sorrow that are experienced in this sort of situation. The mother’s character of Janet (who is usually played by Lauren Giglio but was understudied at this performance) has a great deal to say regarding the impact such an act has on her life. Janet’s “carried him” monologue is one of the most moving in the production.
Showing the entire family dynamic, the grandmother character of Emma (Carol Calhoun) is featured as a bit of a jaded and flighty woman; seasoned wits with age but a general disconnect from the true situation at hand. Calhoun brings a reserved stoicism to the character but does have her moment of full-blown outburst late in the second act.
Every family in crisis needs an outside set of eyes and in this case it’s Pastor Diana (Kelly Richards.) The calm voice of attempted reckoning soothes through Richards, though the character has as much of a handle on the situation as the family does. Given powerful monologues that really shake the faith of those that take refuge and umbrage in religious belief, Richards gives an exceptional performance in the role.
Father figure Steven (Tim Jansen) is of the belief that white-washing the act will make it go away. Seeing these views in real time sheds a harrowing light on how many people share similar beliefs. Jansen’s performance starts at full raging anger, not leaving a tremendous amount of room to grow to when higher climactic emotional outbursts erupt later in the production, but he holds his own with vigor in the rebuttal battle against Kyle (Alie Kamara) at the end of the first act.
Kamara, as the adopted son Kyle, shares the title of most versatile performer on the stage with Sarah Scott, playing the biological daughter Kelli. The pair has a ferocious and perpetual bickering match that is expected of siblings, despite their determined support of one another. Their existence in relation to the dysfunction of the family is one of the most realistic elements of the performance.
Scott is loaded with latent teenage angst, despite her character being out of college, and this barbs well in a most visceral sense against the other characters in the show. Her outbursts are raw and exposed; the vulnerability inside of her throbbing like an angry gash. Kamara has similar outbursts, building one atop the next until he explodes through the emotional ceiling that has been constructed in the show and it all rages from within him, primarily in the direction of his character’s father. Kamara shows stunning versatility in juxtaposing this indescribable anger against his calmer moments of self-blame and guilt.
The piece is remarkable and will start a fire in anyone who has ever been exposed to the topic of suicide; a true gift to the community as a conversational theatre piece.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Masquerade plays through September 28, 2014 at Wolf Pack Theatre Company on the stage at the Charis Center for the Arts— 13010 8th Street in Bowie, MD. For ticket reservations call 240-271-5471 or purchase them in advance online.
To read the interview with Playwright and Director Bill Leary click here.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please pick up the phone and call the national suicide prevention lifeline— 1-800-273-8255.