To all my fairy followers out there, who eagerly await the review of “SUITCASES” to be posted…then fear not…as it has finally arrived. On Tuesday night, I was given the opportunity to attend this new, theatrical production, created by the exceptionally talented duo, Rosanna Saracino and Linda Garneau.
As I quickly took my seat, in the comfortable and spacious theatre space at the Sandbox Theatre, the large crowd were treated to a pre-show musical performance by artist and singer Taylor Hubbard along with Tyler Burton; one of the stars of the show itself.
Before I get to commenting on the theatrical performance, I must give credit where credit is due. With a voice stronger than any artist her age, Taylor Hubbard got the crowd warmed up and excited, accompanied by the beautiful, instrumental contribution of Tyler Burton. With tremendous control over her voice and ability to make the simplest of lyrics sound heavenly, Taylor was the perfect start to any show, and a delight to watch perform.
But what about the main attraction? For those who did not read Part 1 of this article, Suitcases is a play inspired by over 400 suitcases that were discovered at the Willard Asylum, NY. Closed in 1995, there was very little if nothing known about the patients who walked in through the doors of the psychiatric hospital. Behind a concealed wall of the asylum, lay the inspiration to our show. As each of the suitcases were discovered, photographs were taken of their contents, and the images made public. Through the creative and unique storyline by Rosanna Saracino, the play was created, and the patients’ characters formed around the contents that lay inside each case. They say a picture can tell a thousand words, and in this case, it could not be any closer to the truth. From the photos, our fictional characters were created, and brought to life right before our eyes.
As the lights dimmed and the spotlight focused on the stage, it illuminated our characters as they clutched their most prized and important possessions to their chests; stored away in their cases. One by one we are introduced to each of them, as they open their luggage and tell their story to the audience; many sad and touching, others surprisingly positive.
The monologues of each character not only tells the story of their feelings and condition within the asylum, but also their lives building up to their admission and their hopes of a future. For some, and we find that they were placed inside against their will…for others, it may have been for their own safety.
Each biography entwines and flows naturally into the next. With the patients’ interaction with one another, it allows us to see the human element of these individuals deemed insane. As stated in my previous article, one of the objectives of this production was to show how despite social persecution, stigma and discrimination, those suffering with mental illness are able to find others like them, support each other and become a ‘tribe.’ Only through this network can we accept our weaknesses, our differences and imperfections, and escape the darkness that threatens to extinguish our true light.
The most touching element of Suitcases was that each character was relatable to, on some level. The habits, obsessions, and worries they portray to the outside world, can be observed differently by those who watch. The play makes you weigh in on the normal vs abnormal debate, whilst inevitably allowing you to question your own sanity.
Upon attending this theatrical performance, I surprised myself with the realisation, that what we deem insane is sometimes an amplified version of the problems we encounter in our own lives. For example, whats the difference between regular, emotional outbursts and diagnosed anger issues,? When does talking to yourself becoming delusions? When does not acting your age change into reverting to a psychological child-like state? There is a very thin line between sanity and insanity, but through this show, we are able to explore this in depth..
Willard Suitcases Project
Nevertheless, there is still a huge stigma attached to mental illness and this is the reason why Suitcases is timeless, despite being based on the 1910-60’s asylum period. Described by production staff, Suitcases “gives a voice to that which is too often kept secret; the little internal voices, impulses, desires, hopes and fears we dare never speak out loud.”
With a fantastic cast of 22 members, it is impossible to pick out who shone the most, as they were all stars on the night. However, the 4 characters who I could relate to the most were portrayed by the amazing & naturally gifted actors, Casey Hudecki, Luke Opdahl, Amaka Umeh & Jillian Rees-Brown.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the production, as it was something fresh, new and stage-worthy. It is a topic that not many stage professionals delve into, due to touchy subject. But thanks to the professional expertise & belief of director, cast and production team, Suitcases does not shy from the challenge. Not as dark as many would think, it had equal moments of hopefulness, darkness and happiness layered throughout. I would encourage you all to go see this show before it ends on November 6th 2016.
Afterwards, I caught up with creator and director, Rosanna Saracino, and asked her a few questions in a brief interview:
After all the positive reviews from opening night, what were you feeling?
I was elated and so proud of the cast, crew and all the contributors to this production. The feedback after the show was incredible, but so was the experience of feeling an audience breathing with the cast; sharing and connecting with the story. It can be difficult to know if a piece will genuinely resonate with an audience. But you can feel it when that moment happens, and it certainly happened that night. I felt grateful and moved.
“Suitcases,” I found, touched on a lot of issues that many people dismiss or do not wish to admit to themselves? Was this an objective of yours?
One of the goals of Suitcases, is to give a voice to the unvoiced, to speak the secrets and to express some truth about a variety of psychological experiences. I am hoping to strip away the isolation and loneliness that come with these conditions. Mostly I want to humanise the invisible monsters, so that this work may reach out and say “it’s ok, me too…you are not alone.”
The characters were pretty unique, as well as both intriguing and relatable. How was each character created and what did the cast bring to the telling of their stories?
Firstly, each actor was asked to select one of the images from the Willard Asylum Suitcases Photos. They could select the case they were inspired by and from there, I generated a series of exercises designed to provoke character exploration. Providing the cast with text sources and actual patient interviews from the Willard Asylum period, the actors were able to bring themselves to the telling of each story. They brought their generosity, talent, own experience, sensitivity and respect, whilst honouring the real people and their lives. It was both a challenging process and a rewarding one.
As a person who has encountered psychological health issues in both my friends and family, what do you think the message of the show is to us?
I hope for it to help destigmatize the experience, so that we can focus on each other as people and not as conditions. I think we all have moments when we are alone, and we face our own monsters. We are all just human beings; struggling toward, meeting challenges, and perhaps we need to be reminded that we’re not alone. Also, vulnerability carries no shame. It is through our fallibility that we appear most human, and even during the most difficult moments…it can be a beautiful thing.
Lastly, what’s next for you, Rosanna Saracino, after the run of Suitcases? Are there any more untold stories like this phenomenal one, which are just waiting to be awakened?
My greatest hope is that this project receives the funding it requires to move out of the independent production arena, and into a fully supported show. I want to share it with a wider audience, and without a production company and investors, it can be challenging. So, I will be working hard to get it to that place. However, beyond this, there are two other “untold” stories, which I am hoping to develop into new work,. These will happen one at a time; the first hopefully coming next summer. So stay tuned!!!
Suitcases will be performing from November 1st until November 6th 2016, at the Artscape Sandbox Theatre (301 Adelaide Street West, Toronto)
Tickets can purchased at the theatre, but to avoid disappointment, can be purchased online, by clicking HERE.