by Robert Latham
I’m not an art critic. That should be said right from the beginning, so that nobody tries to learn anything from this post about art. I am, however, a pretty avid blogger, and I hope that puts me in some position to tell you about The Suicide Kings quickly, poignantly, and simply. I leave the real criticism to the others. This is a blog post.
I saw this play for my own reasons: it’s about youth violence, child abuse, and the workings of the current in-place systems that either (a) fail to prevent something we truly believe is avoidable, or (b) actually contribute to the problem and hurry it along. And, it just so happens, that I work in a segment of that broken system, with those youths, under the pressure of knowing that it’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens on my watch. I often cry at work, and I’ve come to realize that that’s alright.
The point of much art (or so I’m told by people who know) is to take something familiar, deconstruct it, put it back together, and present it to us, the audience, in a way that we had not considered it before. Such art changes you, pushes you, demands you to be better. Or at least to be different.
The Suicide Kings can’t do that. Not because of any lack of talent or determination on their part–their performance is powerful, sweaty, raw, and I have not run into a single person who left the play unchanged (and people are definitely talking about it around here–in lines, around tables, Jesus, nobody can say The Suicide Kings without immediately imploring you to see it, and rightly so). What The Suicide Kings didn’t do was deconstruct something we already thought we understood–because school violence and the pressures on our youth are two things we have collectively tried to forget. It is only on our minds when we can’t avoid it any longer.
The Kings touch on that and slam right by it. The media reaction to school violence satirizes itself: blame it on music, blame it on video games, ask a few easy questions, get a few crying students on film, and the media are done. They’re done because we’re done. We don’t want to look closer because we’re worried that, the Kings say, we’ll learn that it’s only by miracles that our worst nightmares don’t happen more often.
The Kings speak from the places news anchors can’t go, and we don’t want to look, and they speak in their own stories, own voices. They demand our attention on child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, self-esteem, relationships, and the weight of life. It’s a demand in its purest form: first-person, with anger, in verse, without accompaniment. And to hear it is a punch in the stomach.
It is automatic to say, after a school shooting (don’t skirt it with words like “catastrophe”), it’s automatic to say, “Someone should have just listened. Where were the…?” And we list off the people who were being told but didn’t hear, as though the simple act of hearing would be a solution or dose of prevention. The Suicide Kings offer no solutions (unlike other people who have far less experience in the problem), but they do open their stories up, so that you can hear what you blame others for missing, and realize that it’s only by miracles that they themselves got through life without destruction.
I nearly cried several times during the performance, and stopped myself only because these guys obviously got through okay. But others sitting around me did cry, and I knew this was their first time (back) to this teenage world of violence and frustration and lack of hope, where I work, The Suicide Kings lived, and crying is not only alright, it’s often the only human thing you can do.