The final curtain call for Director, Playwright, and lead actress Cassidy Caduto’s original production Permanent Solutions at AS220 may have been on October 9, but its resounding emotional grit and raw honesty lingered on long after the show ended.
The two-act play, which premiered at RI Stage Ensemble (RISE) in April 2022 and was brought back as an abridged production at FringePVD in July 2022, takes an unapologetically close look at suicide and mental illness from a survivor’s perspective. And while the show is direct and not for the faint of heart, Caduto’s main goal is to break associated stereotypes and stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health.
“We try so hard as a culture not to think about suicide and mental health until it’s too late. Most forms of mainstream media written on the topic glorify and glamorize it and set a dangerous misunderstanding for those consuming said media,” she said.
Permanent Solutions centers on main characters Katherine Hudson and Emma Rhodes, two patients enrolled in an assisted suicide clinic who couldn’t be more different yet are able to find common ground eventually. Katherine (played by Caduto) is a cynical rebel who is ready to get it over with but finds herself slowly opening up to the persistently amicable Emma (played by Maggie Scarborough), an eccentric artist with love to spare for everyone but herself.
The assisted suicide process is administered in pill form and consists of two doses – the first, which Caduto said “shuts down the immune system over 12 hours,” and the second, lethal dose that yields “no pain or resistance.”
As they wait for the first dose to kick in, the two women break the ice and reveal their respective personal stories that ultimately brought them there, through flashback scenes with family and loved ones. What unfolds is a poignant connection amid the grim circumstances, which had the audience (including yours truly) sniffling until the very end.
In the show, “taking your life” holds a double meaning, where you are either deciding to end it or stick around. For Katherine, her decision to take her life stems from being abandoned by others. Katherine doesn’t see the point in sticking around if “everybody leaves,” one of her signature lines in the play, which has echoed in my brain since leaving the AS220 BlackBox theater.
Although the play’s short run at AS220 is over, Caduto does plan to stage it again in 2023, due to the overwhelmingly positive response. “The responses I’ve gotten from audiences after each performance have been unreal,” she said. “The amount of strangers who approach me in tears ready to share intimate stories of their struggles or of loved ones is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced as a writer.”
The play’s reach has also expanded, and Caduto is excited to see where it will go next.
“The audiences have only grown in both size and enthusiasm every time we bring it back and I plan on riding that wave wherever it goes, whether it’s a professional local theater or New York City,” she said.
Caduto penned the first draft of what would later become Permanent Solutions over a decade ago, just a year before her own suicide attempt in 2013. “It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my beginning this project all those years ago was an attempt at a goodbye note,” she said in her Director’s Note.
When it comes to sharing her own struggles through her work and interactions with others, Caduto considers herself an open book who isn’t afraid to share anything. “At this point, I have no apprehension in talking about trauma or my own history with mental illness,” she said.
Hearing others be open about their own experiences inspired Caduto to share her own truth and perspective, which has been healing. “The first time you hear someone confidently and honestly talk about something that you’ve been conditioned to be ashamed of can be earth-shattering,” she said.
Caduto is all about advocating for others who are struggling with their mental health by talking about her own experiences. “If I could make someone who didn’t feel they could ask for help realize that it’s okay to get help, and that it isn’t weak to want to connect, then I will have done exactly what I set out to do.”
Permanent Solutions has undergone 10-15 drafts and has evolved between productions as well. “Even the version seen at RISE was quite different from what was put on at AS220,” she said. Caduto expects for it to return next year on a larger scale and is excited to see what impact it will continue to make.
For now, the play’s takeaway is pretty clear: While everybody does leave, whether voluntarily or by pure circumstance, it doesn’t mean that you have to.
“The black and white photo of the dark-haired girl crying alone behind the bleachers at school isn’t the face of depression. Robin Williams was the face of depression. Suicide isn’t beautiful or poetic, it’s hideous and tragic.”