Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
Anti-Suicide Advocates Protest Play
BACKSTAGE AT N'OREO - Last weekend saw the opening of Miles to Go, an adaptation of Marketa Algeria Nunes's play by the same name, created and staged by local theater company N'Oreo. The play drew praise from KPBS for the way it "deals with heavy issues of divorce and suicide, balancing serious themes with comic elements."
However, not everyone is as pleased as KPBS. The play's mixing of comedy and suicide has led some members of the community to call for it to be boycotted and even shut down. Critics are particularly troubled by the play's opening moments, which feature a teenage girl vomiting prodigiously after deciding to kill herself by overdosing on pills, then thinking better of it and drinking ipecac to help get the pills out of her stomach. "It's a shocking way to begin," grants N'Oreo director Sarah Smiley. "But it's also a little bit funny, in a gross sort of way. We're hoping to disarm the audience by manifesting the absurdity that goes on even in the midst of tragedy."
Not everyone was disarmed. "While we understand that Nunes often writes in a provocative manner, this play is highly insensitive and potentially dangerous," said Jennifer Von Durst, Regional Director for the American Legion of Suicide Stoppage. "We know from more than five decades of research that certain types of media portrayals of suicide can inadvertently be harmful to vulnerable individuals, especially youth, leading to what behavioral scientists call suicide contagion, or copycat suicide. Making a suicidal girl the 'star' of the show glamorizes this horrific act. Suicide continues to be stigmatized, and media portrayals that make light of suicide contribute to that stigma and misinformation. We urge N'Oreo to stop production of this play immediately."
"I get that the play is supposed to be heartwarmingly gritty and darkly funny at the same time, but it's just not humorous," said Greg Eastbrook. "There are topics that, no matter how talented you are as a playwright, will never be funny. Suicide, September 11th, the Holocaust, cancer, war, murder, child abuse, to name a few. I can come up with more if needed, in order to hit one that Nunes has been affected by and to which she would be sensitive."
"Are you freaking serious?" asked Natasha, who declined to give her last name. "This play should NEVER have been written, let alone performed. This type of 'art' does a disservice to those of us who have had to endure the pain and wreckage that is left behind. A person's decision to end their life is not an easy one. Before putting something like this on stage, people should really think a little on how it might affect some in the community."
But others were moved to defend the play. "Good theater is an experience that makes us feel," wrote Irene Hubble in the Old Town Gazette. "Emotions can run the gamut from joy to sorrow, from hope to hopeless, from fear to anger. The important thing is to experience these human feelings as we walk out of the darkened theater into the light of our own individual emotions. N'Oreo's plays have always done that for me."
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