So many plays are comedies, or at least light. Who wants to leave the theater depressed?
And high school theater is especially known for light fare. Who wants teenagers to think about death?
David Roth and Kerry Long do.
The directors of Staples Players have chosen Infinite Black Suitcase as this spring’s major Black Box production. It’s got its light moments, but it is definitely a serious drama.
Which makes it perfect for Players, the high-school-in-name-only troupe that seems to break boundaries every time the curtain rises.
They’ll do it again May 29, 30, 31 and June 1. Players is the 1st high school group to stage the show — and this is the 1st production ever on the East Coast.
Roth was searching for a play with a big ensemble, and challenging roles. “This script really spoke to me,” he says. “It’s well written. It demands a lot of the actors. And the stories are fascinating.”
Infinite Black Suitcase is about death and dying in a small Oregon town. A series of vignettes follows a group of occasionally intersecting characters as they face tough, real-life situations: a sick wife. A dying partner. Feuding exes. Suicide.
How do you let go of a loved one when you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye? How do you start dating again after losing a spouse? What happens when you’re at the end of life, but your husband owns a burial spot with his 1st wife?
The responses are very real, very honest. And the teenage cast rises to the occasion.
They’re helped not only by Roth and Long, but also playwright EM Lewis. She’s very excited to work with a high school group, and has answered actors’ and directors’ questions about character, plot and setting. She’s opened up to them about her own experiences with death and dying, which frame many of the vignettes.
I’m very pleased that Staples has chosen to produce my play. Some themes are complex, which might discourage some high schools from tackling it. But people shouldn’t underestimate high school students’ ability to explore and understand emotionally complicated questions of the human heart.
“It’s so great to work on such a new work,” Long says. “And having access to the playwright’s insights is extra special.” Lewis’ voice comes through strongly; her script, Roth says, is “very modern.”
While all this sounds morbid, Infinite Black Suitcase is ultimately very touching, thought-provoking — even humorous. Each character has depth, is involved in a strong (though difficult) relationship, and faces true conflict.
Rehearsals have been filled with discussion. Roth and Long invited a grief specialist to talk with the cast.
“It’s a very different show,” one actor said. “But I’ve learned a lot. It’s always good to do something different, and get out of our comfort zone.”
Players’ talented seniors are going out with a bang. The younger actors are getting a real-life lesson in theater.
Everyone is learning about death. And life.
(Infinite Black Suitcase will be performed at 7:30 pm on Thursday, May 29; Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31, and 4 pm on Sunday, June 1. It contains mature language. Click here to order tickets.)
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