Three generations of women, a house handed between them, and a long history of illness and trauma. Alice Birch traces the legacy of loss and the intergenerational experiences of motherhood in a family across decades in her Anatomy of a Suicide.
Set horizontally along a bay of windows in a beautiful country house, Carol (Anna Samson), Anna (Andrea Demetriades), and Bonnie (Kate Skinner) are confronting motherhood with their first child while processing the repercussions of their own mothers’ mental illness and suicide. These lives literally overlap in Birch’s simultaneous script so that repetitions and rhythms echo across time and augment the weight of each woman’s experiences. With this staging and structure, the focus shifts from particular circumstance to the movement of tones and moments of organic rippling.
Carol is Anna’s mother and to scaffold her legacy, she purchases a country house with plum trees where she can raise her daughter until she’s old enough to survive without her. Anna’s relationship with her father John (Charles Mayer) never quite recovered from Carol’s death and she becomes distant, lost, stumbling into the unexpected stability of Jamie (Jack Crumlin) and her daughter Bonnie. But in that same house her mother raised her, Anna also ends her life and leaves Bonnie at the end of a deadly inheritance. Finding the strength to start a relationship with Jo (Contessa Treffone), Bonnie is derailed when her past and present collide in this haunted house.
Trauma is an understudied psychological affect but resent research indicates the possibility of inherited or generational trauma, when a family hands down psychological scars to children. In Anatomy of a Suicide familial relationships are forever disturbed by death and illness and this has a detrimental impact on these women’s identities, as well. But mixed in with the trauma is complex feelings of protection, longing, hope, and love for what each woman wanted and was unable to achieve with her daughter. Bonnie, at the end of her line, makes the decision to carry the trauma alone in a powerful combination of forgiveness and self-determination.
Shane Anthony’s direction captured the unique eras of each woman’s life while maintaining a consistent line of connection between them. They are ghosts that walk through each others’ lives like a promise or a prophecy. Composition from Damien Lane weaves the many variant scenes together with a graceful continuity and sharpened the moments of deep grief and isolation, as well. That being said, the structure of simultaneous scenes artfully articulates synchronicity but struggles to allow moments of personal introspection breathe, instead overwriting and distracting from more poignant silences. Similarly, costume design from Siobhan Jett O’Hanlon filled the stage with minute changes that add depth to detail but also clutter the ephemeral with intense attention to the physical.
Samson is exceptional as a deeply sympathetic mid-century housewife trapped in expectations and conventions. Her swings from emotional distance to panic were moving and painfully recognisable. Demetriades as the sharper, rougher, grittier daughter played a captivating unbalanced freedom and vulnerability that absolutely ached. These histories culminated in Skinner’s bottled and brittle Bonnie on the brink of true oblivion between disowning her family’s past and eliminating its future. The surrounding support cast, including Danielle Catanzariti as many different whip-smart young girls, helped beautifully to bolster the immensity of these women’s brutal inner lives and legacies.
Families are troubling for your whole life long because of the profound impact their love and loss have on their loved ones’ lives. For the women in Anatomy of a Suicide, there is peace to be found in tailoring an inheritance and clasping onto the love.
Anatomy of a Suicide is running at the Old Fitz Theatre from June 12th – July 6th