Arts, On Campus

A Journey into the Afterlife Combats LGBTQ Suicide ‘With Love’ on Stage

One of the perks of attending a university with 9000 undergraduate students is the reality that creative talent seems to lurk inside the minds of many. And what better place to show this talent off than at Boston College’s annual Arts Festival? Arts Fest is a breeding ground for creative minds to share in the works of the student body—one of which was Diana Sunder’s With Love.

With Love finds its roots in BC, as it was written by BC English master’s student Diana Sunder. The play tells the story of Jack Harrington, a depressed man who finds himself in the waiting room of the afterlife after committing suicide. There, he meets Fish, an otherworldly individual who guides him through his emotions as he watches the plight of his niece, her sister, and her girlfriend. From beginning to end, the play serves not only to entertain, but also to educate—at the forefront of With Love is the reality of sharply increased suicide rates in the LGBTQ community. The play grapples with this heartbreaking truth, very effectively bringing to light one of many struggles dealt with by those in similar circumstances.

On the technical side, With Love is a resounding success. The minimalist set style—a hand-painted door frame and four chairs—serves the simplicity of the play quite well. In fact, it is a shame that With Love was featured in such a small venue. Though the cast and crew worked very well with what they were offered, the play would be well-suited with a broader stage—all the more room for the larger audience that it deserves, as well.

The dual plotlines of With Love come together quite nicely. The audience spends the first half of the show wondering how the two parallel stories connect, and as each piece falls into its place, it becomes more and more satisfying to see the ramifications of each character’s actions. This interconnectivity is one of the strongest pieces of With Love—though the writing at certain points becomes weaker, the conclusion of the play ends on an incredibly powerful note. As Jack Harrington exits the stage, the emotion in the room hangs on the heads of actors and audience alike.

Yet another strong point of With Love is its cast of compelling characters, Fish in particular. Jake Athyal plays this role perfectly. The ethereal complexities that Fish exudes draw in the audience as he leads Jack to the conclusion of the play. Of particular note is the directorial choice to include the metaphor of a chess game between a man and a supernatural being (see 1957’s The Seventh Seal)—this is a wholly dangerous decision, potentially running the risk of seeming like a cliche or overused story trope. Due in large part, however, to Athyal’s performance, as well as the strong writing behind Fish, this plot arc works well. Every single performer in With Love was of high quality, but Athyal undoubtedly shines quite brightly in his role.

Most satisfying is the message that With Love brings to the table. Aside from the aforementioned dealings regarding the plague of suicide among the LGBT community, the play actively seeks to normalize thoughts on homosexuality. Over half of the play’s main characters are gay, and this is not a simple gimmick—rather, it explores the nature of the struggle behind love, no matter who it is between. At its core, With Love is a story of humanness, proving to audience members that love is not limited to those who seek to hide it behind tradition.

With Love is a play that needs to exist on BC’s campus. It is no secret to anyone that, historically, BC has not been actively progressive on many social issues. It is so refreshing to see an accurate, healthy depiction of a homosexual relationship on a BC stage. Putting aside any other considerations, the work that Sunder has produced is admirable, and the world would be well served if more playwrights were to follow in her footsteps in promoting a more accepting society.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

May 2, 2016