Taffety Punk’s ‘suicide.chat.room’: A unique, haunting, and compelling dance play

Music, dance, and acting come together persuasively in service to an impressionistic production.

Highly recommended. An unsettling dance play. The phrase “sorry you’re here” takes on new meaning.

Safi Harriott and Kathryn Zoerb in ‘suicide.chat.room.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

It is not typical for me to write “highly recommended” at the top of an article. However, Taffety Punk’s suicide.chat.room is a unique, haunting, and compelling performance that deserves such attention. Be aware that there are only a few performances of this tenth-anniversary performance by the Taffety Punk Theatre folk.

Sure, the title suicide.chat.room may be off-putting, or a tale about supposed suicide romantics may not be in your wheelhouse. You might decide to skip it for lighter fare around town or maybe a ball game or a visit to a local club. You might want to reconsider your options. Why?

In the decade since the Taffety Punks burst onto the DC area performing arts scene with its original suicide.chat.room at the Flashpoint, real-life data has made a dismissive attitude toward a production about suicide wrong-headed.

Since 2010, the suicide rate in America has steadily increased. Opioid addiction, perhaps a precursor to suicide, is a national health emergency. And there is even this: suicide is not a teen romantic dream. The sky-rocketing rates of suicide are being propelled by middle-aged white males.

That out of the way, let’s get to the current production of suicide.chat.room. Marcus Kyd conceived of and directed the production, with a narrative based upon and compiled from text found at pro-suicide websites as its originating core. With its music composed by Chad Clark and performed by Beauty Pill, and choreography by Paulina Guerrero with Erin Mitchell Nelson, the production is one-of-kind and powerfully well-expressed.

Taffety Punk’s ‘Suicide.chat.room.’ Courtesy of Taffety Punk Theatre Company.

Sitting through suicide.chat.room, one can learn much about the lives depicted and portrayed with such heart-breaking honesty by Omar D. Cruz, Kimberly Gilbert, Safi Harriott, Connor Padilla, Charlotte Vaughn Raines, Kathryn Zoerb, and the voice of Lise Bruneau. During the performance, characters with names like “lostbooks,” “SturmAndSturm,” “Heironymous,” and “Nightshade/Lily_the-Grocer” take on a clear individuality by how each moves and speaks — and even in their silent poses under a faint light. They are far from ciphers.

The energetic, sometimes hyper, other times “quiet” choreography meshes with the spoken narrative. There are moments when bodies move in angular pain, or “please hug-me” curves. There are moments of utter nervous energy as if someone is trying to decide “should they or should they not go” through with ending their life, all the while thinking and saying, “I have come to hate every part of myself,” and wondering “Is there a way to do it without the risk of being interrupted?”

The underpinning music of Beauty Pill is mesmerizing as an aural landscape device. It becomes hypnotic. How to describe Beauty Pill’s music? It was atmospheric, curvilinear sometimes, sharply angular at others. There are some moving uses of microphones and recorded sounds as well — some clear, some muffled.

The narrative often uses “catch the bus” as a euphemism for taking one’s life. As I left the performance, this Boomer recalled the word “bus” has been used to describe a person’s inner journey into the outside world — from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to Simon and Garfunkel’s song “America,” to Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool Aid Acid Test,” to name just a few.

Music, dance, and acting come together persuasively in service to Taffety Punk’s compelling, impressionistic suicide.chat.room. An audience, if open to it, hears and sees an eloquence, not an inane romantic notion about death. These are voices and movement from those who wish to be released from real pain, or the toxicity of their lives as they feel them. We should hear them, no?

After all, suicide.chat.room may well represent voices we may know personally or professionally. Or, from unheard voices we may come to know in the future and wish we had heard. Or perhaps, from one of those middle-aged and older folk who are not adept at using a social media chat room, but need someone to talk to in their despair.

I was very taken with Taffety Punk’s suicide.chat.room. Let me know your reactions after you see it.

Running Time: About one hour, with no intermission.

Taffety Punk’s Suicide.chat.room plays through February 29, 2020, at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online.

Notes: Chris Curtis, Lighting Design; Scott Hammar, Costume Design; Josh Taylor, Sound Design.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is very powerful, and well written. I like the idea that you began with the “highly recommended.” One glitch, however: I think the location–Capital Hill Arts Workshop–needs to be up at the top. (It’s in the boiler plate at the bottom, but that’s literally the last place one would look!) But otherwise terrific.

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