Suicide, The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Ross Peabody
August 18, 2006
I can't and I won't say that everyone will love Suicide, The Musical, performance artist Helen Stratford's existential cabaret-cum-punk rock musical. In fact, I have no doubt that audience members will fall into two distinct camps: those who absolutely hate it, and those who see what Stratford's doing and fall in love. I find myself planted comfortably in the latter camp. Anyone that spent much time around the East Village and the Lower East Side before the Giuliani administration, and anyone with a healthy appreciation for what was happening artistically in the decade leading up to those years, will most likely lean in the same direction.
If you think you're not familiar with Stratford, it's entirely possible that you're mistaken. She's been a Lower East Side fixture for years, and, I understand, has been playing subways with her accordion and smoky voice for some time as well. You've probably walked by her dozens of times. If she wasn't striking to you at all, she was probably taking a break.
Suicide is mostly Stratford ruminating in viciously smart and often bitingly satirical prose about the title subject while waxing poetic in song about life, bitterness, beauty, art, and the nature of thought, as the band (Joe McCanta, Perry Edwards, and Armen Ra) plays on. The framework of the show is a semi-fictional autobiographical monologue about the lead character, a woman who left her art school life in Downtown Manhattan for a sod of an abusive man in upper class suburbia. Upon realizing the turn her life has taken, she returns to New York at middle age to live the Rimbaudian life of the passionate artist. There are details, but they're more incidental to Stratford's storytelling.
Bitterly bragging of herself as the only straight, white, non-Jewish female in the Lower East side Art scene, she surrounds herself with trannies that portray her onstage, because, to paraphrase Stratford, queens that look and act like her will fill up a house faster than she ever will. It's lines like that, aided by the immortal artistic ideas that were so much more prevalent before the Disneyfication of NYC, that remind me of City times past. Her backing team of drag queens, a fantastic lot made up of a bevy of great-looking boys, and a character in a skeleton costume constantly doing a sort of interpretive dance, not to mention the theremin onstage, all presented with a total lack of irony, put me in mind of City art past.
Suicide, The Musical is something of a throwback. The experience of the show left me with the distinct realization that I've seen nothing of this sort in well over a decade. It's the kind of show that a long time ago in New York you could just stop by your dank local art bar, buy a double for $4.00, smoke a cigarette, and let the scene just jump all over you. Stratford's still singing and writing about that old New York, the reason why she does what she does, and I, for one, am glad to see it. There's a comforting artlessness to Stratford's work that will turn many people off, but when confronted with her mental and artistic dexterity in tandem with her utter sincerity, there's something perfectly artful about Suicide.