Dorian Palumbo reviews: Haunting beauty and elegance in”What I Left Behind”

Teen suicide is a subject much discussed in the media, yet part of the reason it’s much discussed is that it’s not always understood, even by families that have direct experience.  Into this discussion comes a new one-act play by Anthony J. Piccione in which the Ghost of a suicidal teenager (played with sensitive nuance by Julie Wallace) narrates for us, in Our Town fashion, as a series of flashbacks show how she was bullied, misdiagnosed and, ultimately, ignored.

27540736_10211485487793090_5092392958469634527_nThe Body of the teenager is the character used as an avatar throughout the series of flashbacks, and as played by Erin Amlicke, she’s a bit more typical of what we sometimes think of as a teenaged girl – surly, unwilling to see a point of view other than her own, uncommunicative.  Ghost is a bit more introspective, but manages to comment on the events leading to her suicide without undue sentimentality or pathos.  Both performances are confident and touching, commanding the stage without undue fuss and expertly allowing the story to live and breathe.

Emma Romeo and Gabriel Stephens play the Girl’s hapless parents with sympathy and complexity; Dana Majeski does a nice turn as the mean girl/bully that regrets her actions, and Andres Gallardo Bustillo plays a therapist that doesn’t seem to know how to engage with the Girl in any way other than by therapy rote without making him completely stereotypic.

27067436_10211485489953144_8722772939807367211_nPlaywright Piccione does an absolutely masterful job in illustrating this story, ostensibly an issue play, in a way that doesn’t make it feel like an issue play at all.  He has rendered the story with the kind of wisdom and depth that indicates that he has a visceral and personal connection with the subject.   If a family has been touched by depression or suicide, they will certainly recognize the hallmarks of an all-too-common situation, while those who have been lucky enough to have escaped the situation will, nonetheless, find themselves coming to an understanding by the time the play is over.

The beauty and elegance of this play is haunting and the subject matter most timely.  The performances are understated and deft, and the direction, by Sarah Jane Schostack, is sophisticated and cunning, particularly when having the Body and the Ghost of the teenage girl face off against one another.

I can also say that “What I Left Behind” truly is what we think of as a complete, well-told one act; I was not left with the feeling, as I so often am, that the one act play was merely a sketching of what would eventually become a full-length work.  Instead, it reminded me of the episodes of the old Twilight Zone – fully realized in approximately 45 minutes, complete with a cathartic response from the audience.

I’m absolutely looking forward to more work from this playwright.