There were a lot of practical reasons for The Flowertown Players' Corey Geddings to choose Suicide, Incorporated as his directorial debut. The play, written by Andrew Hinderaker and first published in 2015, is a relatively minimal piece, with only a handful of characters and sets. The plot mixes black comedy and tragedy and crackles with crisp, to-the-point dialogue. And as a project for the Flowertown Underground, a smaller, alternative-theater-minded offshoot of the more mainstream James F. Dean Theater-based Players, it would give Geddings a chance to get some experience before taking on some of the larger main theater projects like West Side Story or Legally Blonde.
But this play, which centers on a business called Legacy Letters that assists people in perfecting their suicide notes — and a new Legacy employee who's haunted by a tragedy in his past — struck a chord in Geddings that was far more personal than professional.
"To explain it, I have to go into the back story of how I found this play," he says. "My friend Eric Brower and I are both on the board of directors for The Flowertown Underground, and back in 2015 we were talking about the upcoming season. The artistic director of the main stage wanted me to direct a show in the Underground first, so I was browsing through these plays, and came across it."
"It stuck with me because at the time I was actually considering suicide," he says. "And that play was one of the things that got me through that dark time."
- The majority of 'Suicide, Incorporated' takes place in an apartment and the offices of legacy letters
After emerging from his depression, Geddings wanted nothing more than to direct a version of Suicide, Incorporated, regardless of how long it took to mount the production. "It worked itself out for me," he says. "I don't know how. The stars just aligned somehow, and I'm not going to question it."
Obviously, the truth of the play's nearly two-year journey to the stage wasn't that simple, but Geddings says he never doubted he'd be able to do it. "I guess it just became a mission for me to show this is real, this is something that needs to be seen," he says. "I didn't give a lot of thought about how to bring it to the stage, I just made the decision to take the show forward and make it happen. I never felt like I wouldn't be able to do it. Any play that I direct, I want it to tell a story of something in my life, and hopefully I can help someone else."
Geddings was moved by Hinderaker's straightforward approach to both the subject of suicide and to the dialogue in the play. There's very little fat in the writing, with all of the characters, Legacy Letters owner Scott (played by Ernie Eliason), new writer Jason (Kyle Downs), fellow employee Perry (Eddie Duncan), suicidal Legacy client Norm (John Quarles) and Jason's mysterious brother Tommy (Christian Mahon), saying what they mean in clipped, quick bites. As it turns out, that was beneficial from a directing standpoint as well as a personal one for Geddings, especially when it came to Downs' portrayal of Jason.
"It doesn't play around or dance around the subject of suicide," he says. "That's been really beneficial for me in terms of working with the actors. This is Kyle's first show in the Charleston area. He just moved here three or four months ago from Montana, and he's really helped to bring Jason to life. Kyle has been amazing. I haven't had to do a crazy amount of character development with him; he instantly brought it from day one. Even during the audition process, the moment he read a monologue, I knew he was my Jason. He instantly knew the emotional depth that was needed. Everything just fit correctly for him to be Jason."
The minimal staging required (the play takes place largely in a couple of offices and an apartment) helped Geddings as well. "This is my first time directing, and I wanted to find something that I could fit onto our Underground stage," he says. "We've still managed to pull off great performances like West Side Story and other massive works like that, but I was able to bring it back to a black box theater set for this."
Understandably, given how personal this project was for its director, Geddings hopes his audience leaves with a little more awareness and concern for the people around them. "I don't really have a specific message," he says. "I would just like for people to walk away with their eyes opened. Be more aware of other people around you and know that there are people who deal with this and fight it every day, and they don't show it on the surface. Be kinder to people, because you don't know what they're going through."