I'm Not Here artfully breaks the grip of silence around suicide

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A Doireann Coady Theatreclub production, presented by the Cultch and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Cultch's Historic Theatre on Wednesday, January 24. Continues until January 28

      Questions—soul-crushing, endless, obsessive questions, most of them concerning the word why—are part of the fallout for people whose loved ones have committed suicide.

      And if you’re looking for answers to them, Doireann Coady’s powerful exploration of her own brother’s death is not going to give you many.

      But if you want to work through grief, you will find some understanding witnessing the Irish performer face her innermost demons in a repetitive, mesmerizingly ritualized act of catharsis on the intimate Cultch stage.

      Joined by a supportive and omnipresent stage manager, she circles through the facts of her brother Donal’s death, building a soundscape of home recordings of his voice, snippets of the club music he loved so much, and her own looping recollections of the traumatic event. Brace yourself for specifics. Details stick with you after a tragedy, and Coady returns to them again and again here: the grasping hands of the grieving; the sound her mother made when she got the news; the intricacies of a rope, a police report, a rain jacket.

      So, prepare for that, but, also, for a work that defies theatrical convention. Donal feels very much with us, but he takes the form of an empty chair—a chipped, broken plastic orange stacking chair that comes to life in the piece. Other set pieces are similarly simple yet vivid, from the amp speaker that broadcasts him singing along to music to the black streamers that fly around for his final DJ set. The piece is less narrative than poetic and incantationlike: “Is it working?” she repeatedly asks her stage manager of her mike, and she keeps reminding us, “This is my brother Donal,” pointing at the chair. “He’s not here.” 

      I’m Not Here, words borrowed from “How to Disappear Completely” by Donal’s beloved Radiohead, is not easy to experience; more than a few people left the theatre sobbing or red-eyed. 

      But it is also essential, brave, and transformative. More than anything, Coady’s work breaks the fistlike silence around suicide; she refers several times to people who ask her why she keeps talking about it or tell her she shouldn't turn the tragedy into a theatre piece.

      Her work is a raw plea for people to speak up about it and reach out for help. It’s a reaffirmation that art can help us work through the unimaginable and the senseless—and that no one’s truly alone, even when they feel like they want to disappear completely.