In some ways, From the Envelope of Suicides feels like a Sunday sermon without God. In his investigation of suicide obituaries, storyteller and showrunner Ben Moorad attempts to challenge the apathy of a readership who saw the deaths as little more than tragic headlines. Moorad humanizes the dead, but he stops short of honoring, or disapproving of, their exit route.
This six-show performance series explores suicide attempts from the point of view of archaic obituaries and news clippings from Connecticut newspapers collected between 1941 and 1948. Moorad reads a few of the clippings aloud while a couple of men dressed for a funeral play light, melancholic beats at his side, occasionally reading articles themselves. A projector screen resurrects the stories, accompanied by photos of the deceased, their houses, businesses and neighborhoods.
In the series' second show, Moorad mainly invests his time in getting to know these strangers, having extensively researched their lives and subsequent rationales for death. In one story, a woman named Anna, depicted as an unstable housewife, attempts to swallow poison in her husband's bar, and reactionary local police prescribe her a "milk chaser" in order to calm her system. In another article, Anna makes a different attempt on her life, slashing her arms, and police chalk it up to a "relationship squabble." It's hinted that this relationship was abusive, yet the town insists on seeing her as an overly emotional laughingstock, unfit for domesticity. Touches of misogyny ensue, in a way lending support for her actions.
Not all the highlighted suicide attempts were successful. Moorad ends episode two with the story of a woman whose unsuccessful suicide attempt allowed her another 40 years of life. The failure is portrayed as a happy ending, which complicates Moorad's attempts earlier in the show to legitimize what led the obituaries' subjects to suicide. It creates a challenging dichotomy between the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the will to take it. Envelopes of Suicides seem to ask: Can suicide be both right and wrong? Since Moorad doesn't provide an answer, the audience is left to answer this question for themselves.
SEE IT: From the Envelopes of Suicides plays at Shout House, 210 SE Madison St., envelopeofsuicides.com. 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 27-Nov. 17. $10.