Stan Zimmerman’s powerful Suicide Notes: In Their Own Words puts a human face on statistics (over 41,000 self-inflicted deaths each year) that make one thing tragically clear. As the nation’s #10 cause of death, suicide has reached epidemic proportions with no end in sight.

Zimmerman lets those who took their own lives tell their stories in words they themselves wrote, suicide notes read by a quartet of actors backed by projected images of those whose words we are hearing.

It’s a simple-to-stage format, since like A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, there are no lines to memorize and no set to build. All that’s needed are actors with a gift for inhabiting lives cut all too short.

And it works, to deeply moving effect, as no mere written text could ever hope to do.

Among the notes that get read are letters composed by soldiers incapable of forgetting the atrocities they witnessed and in some cases perpetrated; by victims of depression so excruciating, they see their suicide as simply a death less horrible than life (like jumping from a towering inferno rather than face the other option); by men and women confronting the final stages of terminal illnesses … The list goes on and on.

There’s the Clinton aide who could not face a future with his name besmirched; the convicted madam who chose death over prison; the young woman who preferred to die rather than be committed to a mental facility by her mother.

Most heartbreaking of all are stories of LGBT bullying so unremitting that no “It Gets Better” campaign could possibly convince its victims of a brighter future ahead.

Lending both acting gifts and Hollywood name value to Suicide Notes, Olivia D’Abo, Allie Gonino, Peter Onorati, and Brendan Robinson do devastatingly powerful work.

Suicide Notes ends on a hopeful note thanks to young Steven’s story, though its concluding words ring a tad overly optimistic. After all, not everyone faces problems that can or will get better.

Still, as conceived, adapted, and directed by an inspired Zimmerman, Suicide Notes: In Their Own Words deserves to have a long life ahead of it.

–Steven Stanley
June 28, 2015