Suicide, Incorporated: A Play that Speaks to All

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Every 40 seconds, someone in the world takes his/her own life.

Twin Bill Theater brings another thought-provoking production with the Asian premiere of Suicide, Incorporated, a dark comedy that tackles the taboo topic of suicide. Writer Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful) pens an unusual and almost not-impossible take on the bizarre world of outsourced services. The “incorporation” in focus is Legacy Letters, an OSP (outsourced service provider—as the corporate world calls it) that assists clients in crafting suicide notes.

The beginning’s s’posed to grab ya.

Scott (Jeremy Domingo), the owner, means business and even wants to tap the sleeping market of male suicides. Scott has two employees, Perry (Chino Veguillas), the bibo ass-kisser, and Jason (Hans Eckstein), the new-hire who struggles in handling his first suicidal client, Norm (Mako Alonso). When Jason’s not in the office, he’s at home talking to his brother Tommy (Bibo Reyes), a college student with problems of his own.

Jason (Hans Eckstein) and Tommy (Bibo Reyes) on one side; Scott (Jeremy Domingo) and the detective (Chino Veguillas) on the other. In Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"

My first reaction when I saw the set was “Wow!” The set was minimal yet it speaks a lot. It speaks to the audience. It tells the story on its own even when all the lights are out—save for that purple light shining on an empty chair on center stage. It set the tone of how someone who’s suicidal or depressed feels like most of the time: alone and misunderstood. The words on the walls (quotes and suicide notes from notable people in history) also added another layer. At first, seeing the walls felt like you’re being bombarded with unfamiliar noise, thoughts and emotions. It looked claustrophobic. But it mirrored how the characters must feel like. Reading the words was a whole different experience.

There was one scene when I got lost in my thoughts while watching. My mind flew somewhere else and I tuned out what Norm was saying. However, reading the words behind him, I felt and understood what the character was feeling just the same.

Goodbye cruel world.

Lead character Jason rearranges and dresses the set for each scene change himself. In between scenes, the audience hears the ominous tone of the clock counting down to zero. It is also of note that the time he has for each set change becomes less and less as the play progresses. This lets the audience get a sense of the pressure Jason feels as his own time runs out before he descends into a cavernous spiral of his own dark thoughts. There are no breaks in the play other than the set changes, and this deliberate choice makes the play more seamless, and in a way, makes the message of mental health awareness even more powerful.

However, it’s no wonder that this staging of Suicide, Incorporated captured these feelings so well. Director Steven Conde relates to the characters of the story with his own experience with the topic. The company even went out of their way to really investigate and learn from mental health experts on how to properly and sensitively portray someone suffering from these problems. All of that preparation was not in vain as the cast of five all turned in noteworthy performances.

Hans Eckstein did a wonderful job as Jason. The last time I saw him, he was wearing a superhero costume as Leading Man. It’s nice to see him playing a conflicted and mysterious character with a grim past. You could tell that Jason was eager to always do the right thing: save lives. But as the story progressed, you could also tell that something was weighing him down and this slowly killed him inside.

Jason’s also the only character who had interaction with all of the other characters and Hans had great chemistry with all of his castmates. For instance, the simple nighttime conversations with Tommy and his “pep-talks” with Norm. Each conversation draws you in to listen—crucial for straight plays.

Jason (Hans Eckstein) and Norm (Mako Alonso) talk about the latter's suicide note in Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"
A heated moment between Jason (Hans Eckstein) and Norm (Mako Alonso)

Mako Alonso is brilliant as the off-kilter and always on-edge Norm. He plays the stuttered speech and shaky hands to great effect to really illustrate that the character inhabited a very dark place. I especially love how he effortlessly shifts from pleasantly narrating a lovely story about his wife to anxiously describing his motivations to take his own life. George Schulze will also play the character during the show’s run. I love George so I might watch the play again.

Scott (Jeremy Domingo) with Norm (Mako Alonso) and Jason (Hans Eckstein) in Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"
Scott (Jeremy Domingo) means business.

Jeremy Domingo pretty much plays everyone’s worst nightmare of a boss. Every word he says, the audience listens. I think one of the objectives of his role as Scott is to set the context of the play. That a suicide notes company really does exist. I think Jeremy was very successful; I believed him. Also, I must say this: the “pornstache” is a nice touch—adds to the overall douchiness of the character. 😆

Jason (Hans Eckstein) plods through his first day of training with boss Scott (Jeremy Domingo) and loyal co-worker Perry (Chino Veguillas) in Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"
A funny moment from multi-talented Chino Veguillas

Chino Veguillas masterfully manages to portray three different roles in this one. As the designated comic relief Perry, his comedic timing is great. I’m not really sure which parts of his dialogue is in the script and which are ad lib, but Chino has the audience in stitches whenever he was in the scene as Perry. He also plays a diner server and a detective. Talk about multi-talented!

Brothers Jason (Hans Eckstein) and Tommy (Bibo Reyes) have an emotional chat in Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"
Bibo Reyes as Tommy. 3 Words. 8 Letters.

Bibo Reyes is super adorable as Jason’s younger brother Tommy. In the earlier parts of the play, his warm moments with his brother are a pleasant respite from Jason’s unraveling. When we, as an audience, find out what really happened to his character, Tommy’s pain is subtly expressed yet it hit the mark. There was a scene where he just walked in, said a line or two, and exited. But it left an impression.

Because I didn’t what?!

— You didn’t ask.

Alarmingly, in the country, the estimated number of suicides in 2012 was 2,558. Although we have the lowest rate in the ASEAN region, the trend is increasing and considering, surviving families often opt not to report suicide cases, these stats are possibly understated. That 2012 figure? 550 of them were female, and the rest were male. Society likes to label suicide victims as “selfish”, “baliw” and “makasalanan.” Religion, reputation, or whatever—name the reason. The common theme is the fear of being labeled as suicidal or mentally ill. In the males’ case, there’s also the fear of asking for help, else being looked upon as weak or not manly. The disproportionate number of male suicide victims is represented in the cast’s being all male.

Jason (Hans Eckstein) lights a suicide note of his own creation on fire as Norm (Mako Alonso) looks on, in Twin Bill Theater's staging of Andrew Hinderaker's "Suicide, Incorporated"
Let’s burn the stigma of suicide and mental health.

It’s time to talk.

In this day and age, it’s easier to mask our emotions through social media. Just post a picture of you laughing, people would assume that you’re okay. Add a grinning emoji 😆 or a “haha” at the end your text and no one suspects a thing.

Ninety percent of the time, suicide victims have a mental health issue at the time of their death. Depression that is untreated, undiagnosed, or ineffectively treated is the number 1 cause of suicide. Suicide is not a disease; it’s a symptom. Suicide is an impulsive act. It can happen to anyone at any time. But it can be prevented.

Be vigilant to warning signs. Ask and talk to people you think are having suicidal thoughts. Communication is key. Spreading awareness about mental health is desperately needed in the country. Twin Bill Theater’s staging of Suicide, Incorporated is a commendable first step.

Overall, I loved Suicide, Incorporated and I can tell that the whole audience including the press and bloggers did too. It’s hard to tackle such a sensitive topic like suicide and depression and still manage to entertain. It also initiates discussions about these issues as the audience may also raise their questions about mental health. For each show, a doctor will be present for anyone who wants to learn more about mental health and understand the context of the play better. I hope that this show will become a catalyst for more Filipinos to be aware about mental health and suicide.

Team Twin Bill Theater
The Suicide, Incorporated cast with Team Twin Bill Theater

Twin Bill Theater is founded by producers Joseph and Francis Mattheu. They are twin brothers. Hence the name. The company’s vision is to “make quality, thought-provoking theater more accessible to the non-theater going public.” So far, so good guys!  🙂

Team Twin Bill Theater is composed of Steven Conde (director), Ed Lacson (set design), Jay Pangilinan (sound design), Joseph Matheu (lighting design), Francis Matheu (production manager), Leoren Violan (stage manager & graphic design), Juliene Mendoza (photography), Kathleen Francisco (marketing), and Toots Tolentino (PR manager).

The PARC (Parks and Recreation Center) Manila is one of the newest performance arts venues in San Juan City supported by The PARC Foundation. The PARC Foundation is a registered non-profit organization whose vision is to help make performing arts become a part of every Filipino youth’s life. One of its objectives is to support artists by providing low-cost venues (and studios) with flexible payment terms. Looking forward to Suicide, Incorporated and more shows to be staged here! 🙂

Twin Bill Theater’s SUICIDE, INCORPORATED opens July 15, 2016, 8PM at the THE PARC MANILA (494 LT. ARTIAGA ST., SAN JUAN CITY). The show runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from July 15 until July 31. Tickets are available on TicketWorldLa Niña has been achieved so allot more commute time than usual!

**Twin Bill Theater is currently running a promo for the opening weekend: Buy 5 tickets and get 1 FREE. Check out their Facebook page for more info.

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