Normally I don’t write about live theater on my movie blog even though I love it so much. However, given the toll Covid-19 is having on peoples’ mental health globally I thought it would be fitting to pen about the highly acclaimed Broadway Stage Musical entitled Dear Evan Hansen as it tackles the reticent issue of suicide. Additionally, this live show will soon be coming to the big screen as Universal Pictures has apparently acquired the movie rights, so let’s count this appraisal as a prelude to the film.
Touted as ‘One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history.’ – The Washington Post, this six-time Tony (and Grammy) Award Winning show is just that! This melodious play focuses on teenager Evan Hansen who is an insecure loner that suffers from an anxiety disorder. In a depressed state of isolation, he authors a melancholy memo to himself that accidentally gets mistaken for another equally dejected classmate’s suicide note. As a result, this socially awkward high school student becomes the center of the tragedy and in a misguided attempt to comfort his deceased peer’s grieving parents Evan pretends the two were best friends. As the story unfolds Evan becomes more entangled in his web of lies, which have shockingly and unintentionally increased his popularity at school overnight. His untruths also have the knock-on effect of gaining emotional and physical closeness to his departed classmate’s family, including his attractive sister. But it also causes a disconnect with his own single mother. Evan eventually needs to decide if he will fess up and tell the truth or keep living a lie. Loneliness and friendlessness are brought to the forefront when fellow students decide to start a movement to raise funds and awareness about suicide with Evan as the poster child of the crusade. This show does a good job of tracing the sadness that can drive young people to unthinkable acts of violence against themselves, while highlighting how easy it is to get caught up in deception and fabrications, especially when the overall intentions are meant for good. That said, I think the main life lesson of this influential show is more about shining light on the incredible sorrow and emptiness felt by those who lose someone to suicide. ‘Why’ – is the most inconsolable question left unanswered. Despair vs. Buoyancy – suicidal people are often blinded by their own sense of hopelessness, depression, self-loathing, and aloneness with death looking like the only option. That is why it is so important to take talk of suicide seriously. Anyone who feels like their emotional suffering is unbearable just wants the pain to stop. Intervention can help.
Having been trained in suicide prevention there are a few quick helpful hints to keep in mind when thinking someone might be at risk of committing suicide, as follows:
- Be sensitive about their struggles/feelings and look for warning signs like talking about suicide or giving personal items away, buying a weapon…
- Be direct and ask them straightforwardly if they are thinking of taking their own life. If the answer is yes,
- Ask if they have a plan. If the answer is yes,
- Talk to them and find out the plan and what matters to them. People still alive are living for something so try to find out what that is (e.g. spouse, family member, job, friend, pet…) and remind them of that reason to live…
- If you are with them don’t leave them alone. If not, make them promise they will not do anything to hurt themselves for 24 hours. This will buy you time.
- Get them help immediately.
NOTE: Covid-19 is creating tremendous anguish for all of us on so many levels of our being, so we all need to guard our own mental/physical health as well as those we care about. Watch out for each other and remember there is hope and there is help. Together we can and as the hashtag of this musical states ‘you will be found’ – we all will – stay connected. Bless. www.helpguide.org
P.S. I recently saw this magnificent musical in London’s West End and NEVER have I cried so much while watching live theater in my life as I did at this show. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the theater was deeply moved and many were openly weeping just like me. This show is so incredibly inspirational, sad, and heart-rending it’s easy to get completely caught up in the story-line. This speaks volumes of this musical as it is very rare that live performances can have such an emotive impact in real time, unlike their onscreen counterparts that seem much easier for audiences to get lost in the narrative. As a result, I highly recommend everyone see this amazing show ‘live’ if you ever get the chance. Oddly enough when I was away in the UK seeing this fabulous performance abroad the show made its debut in my hometown of Calgary Alberta (Feb 18-23, 2020). This is one musical that certainly lives up to the hype so I’m very glad it’s receiving the wide-reaching recognition it deserves. Well done and let’s hope we won’t have to wait too long to enjoy such wonderful outings again.