"A Beautiful Glass" is a musical about teens exploring the root causes of different cases of teen suicide. Our two lead characters do so by attempting to dive into the minds of their peers who committed suicide, as well as investigating Shakespearean suicides, suicide bombers, and many other cases. As the play progresses, the two leads fall in love and not only uncover some truths about suicide, but truths about themselves, including an unclear and very sudden implication that one of the leads suffers from schizophrenia.
Overall, we felt that this musical is infuriating, saddening, and incredibly problematic due to its treatment of the subject of suicide. We do not blame the actors at all; rather, we blame Tony Kienitz and Tanna Herr, the authors and directors of "A Beautiful Glass."
First of all, some of the show's content was directly based off of real life events. After one of the deaths at Gunn, the person's friends covered the Gunn campus with chalked messages in the person's memory. "A Beautiful Glass" opened with students writing "RIP" and "We Miss You" on the ground with chalk; during this scene, one of the characters even has the audacity to say, "I can't believe I have to do this again." To drive this parallel to real life home, the fictional high school is called "Cannon High School," a very clear reference to "Gunn High School." This obvious parallel to real life is disrespectful to both the person who died, and to the grieving process of the person's friends.
Additionally, the opening song, "This Town's Kids," finishes with the line "this town's kids are blazed on weed," after which all of the actors lie on the ground, coughing. This is an almost-hilarious example of an adult's idea of what teens in Palo Alto are like. No, not all of us are high all the time, and no, lying in a big pile of peers, coughing, is not a relatable situation. This portrays Palo Alto teens in such a negative light: we are not two-dimensional, naive drug addicts.
Throughout the first act, different actors portray the stories of different fictional teens who have committed suicide. All of these monologues are built upon the utterly incorrect premise that every suicide has just one root cause. For instance, one of the characters claimed that his medication to treat the acne on his back caused him to commit suicide. Another character seemed to imply that he took his own life simply because his commercial agency neglected to communicate with him properly. Suicide is an INCREDIBLY complex decision, and implying that every person who commits suicide is propelled by one concrete cause is disrespectful and infuriating to everyone who has ever lost someone to suicide (including the authors of this article). This play is indirectly telling us that the people we've lost all had one concrete motivation, and if we could have remedied that one thing, everything would have turned out okay.
There is also a scene in the play where a student asks their physician for treatment for their depression, and is told, â€œGood luck with that / I donâ€™t have time for you.â€ Although we understand that this is supposed to be a satirical scene, it has some extremely dangerous implications. When someone in the audience who is hoping to get treatment for their mental illness sees this, they might become wrongly convinced that their doctor will also tell them "I don't have time for you." In reality, every person with an MD degree MUST undergo training in psychology, and will NEVER disregard someone seeking mental health treatment. This scene could be interpreted as actively trying to discourage teens from seeking out professional help, and that is incredibly harmful.
In the second act, the actors portray all of the Shakespearean suicides, which totals to nearly twenty. Not only is it jarring and sickening to show this many suicides onstage, the acting and directing gave the audience permission to LAUGH at these suicides. By the end of the scene, much of the audience was chuckling at the stupid, overdramatic portrayal of these completely not-funny deaths. That is very, very inappropriate, and brought one of the authors to tears (and not tears of laughter).
Another horrible scene dealt with suicide bombers. Now, this cast has very few people of color to begin with. However, the worst part about it is the fact that the directors cast an incredibly talented and wonderful Middle Eastern actor as a suicide bomber. This character's blatantly racist song includes choreography that culminates in primate-like dancing and chanting, a horrifically offensive and insensitive portrayal of several different cultures scrambled together. Even if this song were somehow made to be less problematic, the white authors and directors of this play are NOT allowed to make any statements about racial minorities, period. It is not their life and not their experience to reflect on.
There are many more problems with "A Beautiful Glass" that we could go into, but in general, when dealing with such difficult emotional material, A Theatre Near U needs to be MUCH, MUCH more sensitive to how this would affect people who have lived through the suicides of their peers and friends. It is absolutely NOT okay to show that many onstage suicides, and then never directly and explicitly address what someone in the audience should do if they've ever contemplated killing themselves.
Even though this show is unfortunately likely to continue playing through to its closing night, we need to get through to Tony Kienitz and Tanna Herr to effect some changes. First of all, there needs to be a trigger warning and several different suicide hotlines, in bold print, all over the program, as well as posted in the lobby. The content of the show is bad enough as it is; it is extremely dangerous to let someone feeling emotionally volatile and raw leave the theatre without having easy access to information about mental health resources. In addition, this show definitely needs to be donating some of their profits to KARA, Project Safety Net, or some other local suicide-related organization. At the very least, the ushers should should have donation jars. Finally, they need post information about mental health resources very publicly on their social media pages.
As two students who have struggled with mental illness ourselves, and been directly affected by the suicides at Gunn, "A Beautiful Glass" was triggering, insensitive, and, in general, not okay.
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