Bell(e)

Bell(e), ethos' installation focusing on literary suicides, chucks the adolescent illusion that killing oneself is a meaningful act of passion

Arts Review

Bell(e)

The Vortex, through Sept. 23

Running time: 1 hr

Many teen girls have dog-eared copies of The Bell Jar or Patriotism because of their romantic notion of suicide as less than a fainting spell and more as a "be all and end all" (literally) act of defiance and martyrdom. Goodbye cruel world, as they say. But Honoré de Balzac once said that every suicide is an awful poem of sorrow. After an artist commits this final act, his or her body of work becomes an extended suicide note, making the artist's opaque life an even more intriguing mystery.

Bell(e) seems to chuck any of those adolescent illusions that suicide is a meaningful act of passion. Ethos' latest installation features a handful of authors (including Anne Sexton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Marina Tsvetaeva, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Yukio Mishima) captured in a vitrine by the Greek poet Sappho. Each masochist is in his or her own setting, as if Sappho had decided to catch her literary favorites with a bell jar before they flew off into an afterlife of eternal servitude and torture in Hades.

When you enter, the artists are half-creating, half-rambling, playing with objects in their spaces. Mishima is yelling with a magnifying glass held to his mouth. Tsvetaeva is cutting paper doves. Sexton, of course, is applying bright red lipstick. Center stage, the skeleton of a bell hangs over Sappho's area, which has turnkey alarm clocks and a place to hang her scepter. She chimes a small brass bell, and the authors leave their places and move into someone else's. Sappho visits each one, feeding them grapes, holding up a mirror to them, chanting her Sapphic verse. In fact, all the authors are chanting texts. Chad Salvata, who conceived this museum and brought it forth with the help of set designer Ann Marie Gordon, and sound designer Roy Taylor play monotone readings of text overhead, which spins the madness on top of the blood light that lighting designer Jason Amato shines with crucifixes.

Perhaps from breathing in their own insanity in the jar, they go mad (again) and begin to babble, scream, and occasionally throw things, like poor soulless creatures in a zoo calling desperately before destroying themselves and their environments completely. Here these artists are remembered solely for their final acts, their suicides.

The actors bring suicide to its knees, staying in character, killing themselves night after night. They show us that, for better or worse, suicide can be an act of independence. You might want to bring something to bite down on when you go. Watching this hourlong display is a kind of shock therapy.

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
All the Way
All the Way
In Zach Theatre's staging of this epic political drama about LBJ, the fight for civil rights feels particularly urgent

Robert Faires, May 1, 2015

Random Acts of Magic
Random Acts of Magic
The 2015 batch of Out of Ink 10-minute plays is a satisfying buffet of silliness and thoughtfulness

Elizabeth Cobbe, May 1, 2015

More by Patti Hadad
Arts Review
Ashes, Ashes
In UT's staging of this postapocalyptic fairy tale, we can't help be sucked into the magic of the infinite hole

Nov. 9, 2007

Arts Review
Tooth and Nail: Plus Tooth 2!
Tongue and Groove Theatre dishes up vaudevillian punk in two odd and hilarious shorts

Sept. 14, 2007

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bell(e), ethos, Chad Salvata, Ann Marie Gordon, Jason Amato, Roy Taylor

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)