Please Stand Clear, playing the Toronto Fringe Festival, takes a very heavy and sensitive subject—suicide—and approaches it from a darkly comedic angle. In a bustling TTC subway station, on a bench before the tracks, two men have an offbeat and intense encounter.
Missing his train, Colin (Ross Hammond) starts a conversation with a brooding man on the bench, Tim (Anthony Di Feo). After some awkward small talk, Colin’s questions becoming quite intrusive, Tim suddenly blurts out his reason for hovering near the tracks: he is considering taking his own life.
Colin’s completely nonchalant reaction is the first of several surprises here. Tim’s situation seems fascinating to him, even amusing. There are some hilariously jarring moments when Colin’s comments seem borderline sociopathic, certainly reckless. But we can tell, from the nuances, that his intentions are not in the least mean-spirited.
The humour of Hammond’s script doesn’t lessen the weight of the situation. Humour is a great unifier. Colin’s constant, affable forthrightness encourages Tim to speak freely. Neither Tim nor his plight are made to feel too precious and so our guard goes down and the conversation becomes de-stigmatized.
Hammond has significant charisma and his polite, friendly demeanour is endearing. I appreciated how subtly he and director Raeburn Ferguson have let Colin’s darkness slip out at key moments. Di Feo’s Tim is, for the most part, a straight man to Colin’s compassionately playful antics. The dynamic works. As our point-of-view character his personality is suitably muted, though he conveys many colourful shades of inner life.
There are satisfying revelations regarding both of these characters that feel truthful and resonant. And despite somewhat anticipating it, I appreciated this bit of narrative sleight-of-hand: a significant twist is dropped on us in the final moments that puts everything we’ve seen in a new context.
With a slightly absurdist and tragicomic tone, Please Stand Clear boldly traverses intriguing and uncomfortable territory with questions about our responsibility to ourselves and the people who love us. It is a thoroughly entertaining and poignant experience.