More than a dozen actors both near and far will take the virtual stage this weekend in a production inspired by the tragic loss of a local man.
Called “13 Suits: A Mother’s Monologues,” it follows what happens before and after the death of Patrick Duff, a Niskayuna native who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2015. The driver, a young woman, fled the scene and made 17 calls to relatives and lawyers, waiting more than an hour before calling emergency services. By the time help arrived, Duff was dead and his “organ donor” status was no longer relevant.
The piece is co-directed by Rachael Yoder, a fellow Niskayuna native who grew up with Duff, and runs The Outer Loop Theater Experience with her partner, Michael Herman. Together, they worked with Duff’s mother, Kathleen, to write “13 Suits.” The docudrama production is based on poems and stories that Kathleen wrote and shared about Duff.
“I created scenes and other characters around her stories,” Herman said. “Then, we weaved those into the play. You have basically these 20 monologues that are her reflections and then you have these wonderful, fun, light scenes that are weaved throughout so you get a sense of not only the story of a mother grieving or humans grieving over a loss but you also get a sense of who the person really was. Not only Pat himself . . . but also who he was to his friends, to his siblings, to his parents, to his nieces and nephews.”
The style of the production is reminiscent of the “The Laramie Project” or the “The Vagina Monologues.” In one monologue, a mother speaks about cleaning out her son’s closet and finding 13 suits and donating them to an organization for young men who can’t afford suits for job interviews. That memory, which inspired the production’s title, is juxtaposed with a story about her son’s first — and for a while, only — suit.
“She talks about Pat first getting out of school and starting to work and having only one suit to wear to everything he had to go to,” Herman said. “One day, he’s making a sales call downtown and he gets out of the car and a dog comes up to play with him and bites his pants leg and playfully shreds his suit pant.”
Some memories take the audience further back in Duff’s life, including when he organized an anti-prom party and proceeded to go to prom and win prom king.
Initially, the Outer Loop did a reading of the play in 2019 in Schenectady and have continued to develop it since then and it’s on its sixth (or perhaps seventh) iteration.
“It just seemed like during the pandemic, when everyone was collectively dealing with a sense of loss, that this might be the time to revisit the project and produce it virtually,” Yoder said.
Some of the actors in the production are local and were involved in the initial reading. Others are from across the country.
“Something I think that was important . . . was to not just have it be one woman going through one person’s story; that the point was that this is a universal story that could happen to anyone. It was important for us in the casting process to represent people of all different races, different ages, different ethnicities as if to say . . . This could happen to anyone and in point of fact though this is one mother’s story, our feelings of loss are really all the same,” Yoder said.
With the actors spread out across the country, rehearsals were all conducted via Zoom. While the format is limited in some ways, it does allow for certain set design elements.
“. . . Where this new virtual tech magic that we’ve been learning over the last year comes in is when we have scenes where more than one person is in the scene together, sometimes four people in a scene we’re able to through the magic of green screen technology . . . bring everyone into what appears to be the same space for the audience. So we have some bar scenes and some prom scenes and some school parking lot scenes where it will look to the audience like all of these people in the scene are actually in the same location but they’re all in their own homes. I’m used to doing this kind of stuff but I was amazed at how advanced the technology is now,” Herman said.
Throughout the production, different characters look at a TV or another screen, whether it’s in a bar, at home, at school, etc., and see statistics concerning drunk driving, hit and run accidents and organ donors. In the future, the directors may partner with an organization or perhaps the Department of Motor Vehicles to present “13 Suits” as part of defensive driving courses.
For now, they’re slated to perform the show at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. After each show, there will be a moderated discussion.
“I think that as difficult as it can be to hear some of these words because they come from such a place of deep grieving and pain . . . what we’re hoping everyone leaves with is a sense of feeling less alone in your sense of loss . . . a sense of our common humanity and how important it is to take care of each other and look out for each other,” Yoder said.
Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $20 per person. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Niskayuna Community Action Program, a volunteer coalition working to improve the quality of life for all living in Niskayuna, with an emphasis on substance use prevention.
For tickets and more information visit https://13suits.eventbrite.com
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