Sunday, March 29, 2015

 last night.

LIVE! FROM THE LAST NIGHT OF MY LIFE was one of those plays I read about after it happened, one of those plays I was always sorry I didn’t get to see. It belonged to that era of theatre-going when I went to ACT a lot, maybe sometimes the Rep, but I hadn’t discovered any of the little theaters that are all over Seattle. I had been going to Strawberry Theatre Workshop for a few years already and I had just discovered New Century Theatre Company. I had already walked away from Intiman when they imploded, finally, in the spring of 2011. Everything changed for me after that. My theatre-going life is divided into two distinct periods, Before Intiman Imploded, and After.

But we were talking about LIVE! FROM THE LAST NIGHT OF MY LIFE. Written and directed by Wayne Rawley, it is being remounted with the entire original cast and almost the entire original crew. It is one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen, and also one of the saddest. Doug Sample works the graveyard shift in a convenience store, and tonight is going to be the last night of his life, because at the end of his shift, he is going to kill himself. Meanwhile, all night long he has to deal with shitty customers and a talking advertisement and with all the people in his life, past and present, and occasionally future, who keep walking in and out, with the occasional dream dance sequence with his secret backup dancers. Wouldn’t our lives all be better if we had backup dancers to follow us around?

What makes the play beautiful is two things: the mind-numbing ache of working a minimum-wage job and being told, over and over, that you could just do so much more if you would try and live up to your potential. And also this: the absolute emptiness of depression. It’s so easy to say, well, just one day more. Just get through one day more. There are things worth living for. But what do you do when you don’t see anything in your life worth living for? When there is no amount of love that can drown out the voices in your head that say, you are worthless? That you’ll never do anything and you’ll never be anyone, and you are just going to be stuck here, day in and day out, in this shitty little convenience store?

The saddest, most heartbreaking thing about LIVE! FROM THE LAST NIGHT OF MY LIFE is all the moments where Doug might have decided, well, ok, maybe I won’t kill myself tonight. All the moments where someone walking in the door could stop him, all the times when someone could have just been there five minutes earlier and help him find something worth living for. The sunrise that floods the convenience store windows comes too late. The cop who almost finds the gun in his bag doesn’t open the bag. The friend who loves him can’t quite reach the darkness inside him, no matter how hard she tries. There is no saving Doug, just as there is no saving so many people, every day, all the time. But there is still hope for some of us.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached online at or by phone at 1 (800) 273-8255.

LIVE! FROM THE LAST NIGHT OF MY LIFE is produced by Theatre 22 and is playing at 12th Ave Arts through April 18th. Tickets here:

Monday, March 02, 2015

theatre notes.

Last week A. and I went to see SEVEN WAYS TO GET THERE at ACT, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I wasn't sure exactly what it was going to be about - a bunch of men-babies talking about they can't get laid, maybe. And there was a little of that, sure, but there was so much more than that, and I can't stop going over all the little moments of the play in my mind. It was very, very, funny and very, very honest, and I cried at the end. I loved it, and it surprised me how much I loved it. Co-written by Bryan Willis and Dwayne Clark, SEVEN WAYS TO GET THERE is based on Dwayne's real-life experiences in a men's therapy group in Seattle during the late 1990s. The soundtrack is all 90s alt-rock and it takes me back to my high school years, but that isn't why it all felt so real to me.

All of us have problems, the play tells us, no matter how different our lives seem on the surface. All of us have fears and doubts that paralyze us, and some of us stand at the edge of a darkness that can't be described or understood, and some of us fall over that edge into the abyss. There's never any warning, only signs so insignificant that one only thinks about them afterwards, picking apart every last word, every last minute that you saw someone you thought you knew and understood. But you never can. There is a line from Holly Arsenault's play THE CUT - a work in progress, so I don't know how it will end - that keeps echoing in my head. A dying woman once tried to commit suicide as a teenager. "I should have died thirty years ago," she tells her lover. Those thirty years of survival felt like a gift.

Five years ago this month the writer Elspeth Thompson committed suicide near her home on the Sussex coast. She had been depressed for weeks, and had begun taking antidepressants that, instead of halting her descent into darkness, sent her spinning further into space, into the cold lake waters, pockets weighed down with stones like Virginia Woolf, who had done the same thing sixty-nine years earlier. I think of them both when I hear Mike Daisey talk about depression, about how close he has come to that same end, and yet somehow still walks back from the edge. But the people who struggle every day never really know. They never know if they can keep putting one foot in front of the other until one day turns into one year turns into ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and that yawning abyss recedes into a faint shadow in the distance. And those of us who watch them and ache for them, we never know, either. We can only wait, and hope.