This review comes from Night Writes guest reviewer Gabriella Florek
Even before the show began, one of the immediately striking things about this production of Anatomy of a Suicide was the set. The space comprised what looks like a single room with three doors, each one featuring a large window built into it. Hanging behind and above the doors, identical lights, and lastly, also behind the doors, an assortment of household objects, a table, a bathtub, chairs. We had the feeling of being in someone’s intimate space or, at least, the potential for someone’s intimate space. But, at the same time, there was something clinical about it. It was too clean, too bright, too light-filled. It was almost as if by virtue of being here to witness the story, the audience had transgressed something private. The house had been polished clean, hiding evidence of whatever dark horrors had occurred or that might be about to unfold.
This delicate dance between intimacy and clinical distance was something prevalent throughout the production. In any experience of trauma, there is the lived moment of it and then there is having to live with it from day to day; there is the way it manifests for the self and for other people around them. It’s a constant tension between something intensely private but, at the same time, an all-consuming, collateral, and public explosion. Shane Anthony’s production allowed for the trauma stemming from mental illness, specifically its demise and suicidal themes, to delicately emerge, which was not an easy task given the robust and, at times, dense nature of the writing.
Alice Birch’s script doesn’t shy away from powerful, graphic imagery. Even from the text alone, there was no escaping the casual but painful mention of slitting wrists, drowning, electrocution therapy, and addiction. Even before these things made their way visually on to the stage, they worked their way into our imagination. We felt for the characters in the retelling of their story before we saw the full impacts of their illnesses unfold.
Anna Samson, Anna Houston, and Kate Skinner all brought an intensity and gravitas to their performance as the related women across three generations. As the audience started forming an understanding of their family connection, it felt impossible to not read into the varying ways in which the same illness manifested differently across cultures and times. Carol (Houston), the first of the family’s women to experience acute mental health struggles laced with suicidal ideation and a few failed attempts, painted a painful picture of how such experiences were sidelined and misunderstood a few decades ago. Her surviving daughter Anna (Samson) grappled with the illness in a different way, attempting to numb the pain, struggling to acknowledge its existence. Bonnie (Skinner), the final of the three women, in some ways seemed to be the most well put-together, although it was soon clear that her traumatic past was suppressed in unhealthy ways and she struggled to find peace with her life as well as with those that came before her.
This production of Anatomy of a Suicide highlights the deeply complex and fragile nature of mental health as it is experienced by women across generations. It speaks to the universal struggle of living with depression, or supporting those who live with it, trying to make sense of the senseless, and coming to terms with death. It’s a confronting but tender portrayal of illness. More of these stories deserve to be told as they add nuance to our contemporary discourse of mental health and their intergenerational and societal impacts.
Anatomy of a Suicide is running at the Seymour Centre from October 6th – 29th
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