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Play about suicide ends with hope

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 11, 2011 - After Chicago playwright Andrew Hinderaker worked through the fact that a friend had taken his own life, he discovered a startling statistic: 80 percent of completed suicides involve men.

"What is the relationship between masculinity and suicide?" Hinderaker asked himself.

The Last Word

Around the same time, Hinderaker was working for a company that polishes college application essays. Two worlds collided, and a play about the penultimate task of the suicidal was born.

The satirical "Suicide, Incorporated," opening as a staged reading Friday, May 13 at Crestwood Court, begins with an out-of-the box business idea, according to Randy Stinebaker, artistic director of RS Theatrics, an offshoot of Soundstage Production

"A particularly entrepreneurial individual decides that if you are going to kill yourself, obviously the most important thing you will ever write is your suicide note," Stinebaker said.

Who better to compose such notes than someone who already excels at writing the words that make the whole world cringe? So the founder of Legacy Letters steals away wordsmith Jason, one of Hallmark's finest.

In the role of Jason, actor Mark Kelley understands a darker side of his character that emerges as the play progresses. Initially presented as an uncomplicated, clean-cut guy, Jason eventually has his own demons revealed.

"I identify with his knowing things about himself that you really don't want anybody else to know," Kelley said. "We all have those skeletons in our closets."

View From The Couch

That reluctance to speak openly is one reason men complete suicide so much more often than women, according to Clayton psychotherapist Michael Brog.

Not only are men less likely to seek mental health resources, they are typically more aggressive and more comfortable with violent means of ending their lives, such as with guns, Brog said.

For the survivors, suicide is such a "destructive and hurtful act" that even the most eloquently written parting words are unlikely to provide much comfort, Brog explained.

"People who are left behind are usually left with profound pain and anguish, and the note does not do much to alleviate that," Brog said.

Starting A Conversation

Pulling off a satire about suicide is definitely a "tricky thing," according to playwright Hinderaker. But an indicator of his ability to successfully walk the fine line is the audience's reactions.

"I've talked with people who've lost loved ones to suicide, and they tell me the play is a cathartic experience for them," Hinderaker said. "You can't bring back what's lost, but I hope this play is successful in starting a conversation about the connection between men and suicide."

"If the play helps to raise awareness, then that's a great thing," Brog agreed.

Christina Rios, making her directorial debut with "Suicide, Incorporated," said that when co-director Stinebaker sent her the script, she jumped at the chance to be involved.

"I emailed him right back and said, 'This is the best contemporary script I think I've ever read,'" Rios said. "It's an amazing piece to cut your directorial teeth on."

The play's conclusion is far from fairy-tale, but neither is it depressing Stinebaker noted.

"In the end, the piece is uplifting," Stinebaker said. "Not totally feel good but at least the characters are going to get through the night."

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.