Suicide in B Flat

Last updated
Suicide in B
Written by Sam Shepard
Date premiered15 October 1976
Place premiered Yale Repertory Theater
New Haven, CT
Original language English

Suicide in B is a play by Sam Shepard.

Production history

Suicide in B was first produced at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, CT, on 15 October 1976. The first West Coast production took place in 1977 at the Magic Theatre, San Francisco, directed by Robert Woodruff. The cast of the Yale Rep production was as follows:


Plot summary

The play (subtitled "A Mysterious Overture") is an extended one-act, lasting about an hour, with a single set. The action takes place at the house of Niles, a jazz musician, although it is indicated very sparsely. There is an upstage wall and two pieces of furniture: an armchair and a floor lamp with an elaborate lamp shade depicting a tropical scene. An upright piano painted white, matching the upstage wall, is against the wall. The white, chalk outline of a dead body is drawn on the stage floor in front of the armchair. The Pianist enters, wearing an old-fashioned costume. He never speaks but only plays various kinds of jazz music, as described in the script. The play begins after he enters, sits down at the piano (facing away from the audience), cracks his knuckles high above his head, and there is a loud, female scream offstage as the lights go out. They come back on.

Enter Pablo and Louis, the two detectives, also wearing old-fashioned costumes. They speak in an odd kind of dialogue, which is one part film noir and the other part abstract poetry. They are investigating what may be the suicide of Niles, the owner of the house. His body (indicated by the chalk outline) was found on the floor, with its face and fingerprints completely cut out, so he can't be identified for sure. Louis concocts a "theory" about the murder in a long speech which makes very little sense. The two detectives quarrel with each other and threaten to quit.

Two friends of Niles enter, one at a time. Petrone has a saxophone but only makes noise with it – it seems as if he doesn't know how to play it. The same is true of Laureen, who has a bass fiddle. Each of them quarrels with the detectives and describes Niles, their hero, as a great genius who composed music which was so far ahead of its time that no one understood it. While these bizarre discussions are going on, Niles enters with Paulette and a large suitcase full of props. Niles and Paulette cannot be seen by the others, although they share the stage with them.

The action alternates between the "investigation" involving the detectives, Petrone, and Laureen; and various rituals in which Paulette leads Niles, in an effort to banish the other characters, leaving the house for Niles. Paulette's rituals don't work. Finally Niles decides to make himself visible to the detectives – this will mean disaster for him, and Paulette flees. Niles delivers a long, poetic speech in which he seems to be ready for anything the detectives can do to him.

The detectives arrest Niles and handcuff him – each detective is locked to Niles by handcuffs. The detectives lead off Niles for his punishment – he faked his own suicide, and they can't let him get away with that – and maybe he committed a murder, leaving a corpse on the floor of his house. The music from the jazz piano and the noise from the two "musicians" mounts as the detectives lead Niles away. The stage lights fade out. The tropical lampshade winks out, apparently by itself, leaving the stage dark, as the noise and music continue, but they eventually fade out, as the play ends.


Related Research Articles

Fats Waller American jazz pianist and composer

Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, violinist, singer, and comedic entertainer. His innovations in the Harlem stride style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano. His best-known compositions, "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose", were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1984 and 1999. Waller copyrighted over 400 songs, many of them co-written with his closest collaborator, Andy Razaf. Razaf described his partner as "the soul of melody... a man who made the piano sing... both big in body and in mind... known for his generosity... a bubbling bundle of joy". It's possible he composed many more popular songs and sold them to other performers when times were tough.

Johnnie Johnson (musician) American musician

Johnnie Clyde Johnson was an American pianist who played jazz, blues and rock and roll. His work with Chuck Berry led to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for breaking racial barriers in the military, as he was a Montford Point Marine - where the African-American unit endured racism and inspired social change while integrating the previously all-white Marine Corps during World War II.

Honky-tonk Type of bar that provides musical entertainment and a style of music played there

A honky-tonk is both a bar that provides country music for the entertainment of its patrons and the style of music played in such establishments. It can also refer to the type of piano used to play such music. Bars of this kind are common in the South and Southwest United States. Many eminent country music artists, such as Jimmie Rodgers, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Horton and Merle Haggard, began their careers as amateur musicians in honky-tonks. The modern-day honky-tonk atmosphere has continued with the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Turnpike Troubadours, and Mike and the Moonpies.

Earl Hines American jazz pianist

Earl Kenneth Hines, also known as Earl "Fatha" Hines, was an American jazz pianist and bandleader. He was one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz piano and, according to one source, "one of a small number of pianists whose playing shaped the history of jazz".

McCoy Tyner American jazz pianist

Alfred McCoy Tyner was an American jazz pianist known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career. He was an NEA Jazz Master and a five-time Grammy winner. Not a player of electric keyboards and synthesizers, he was committed to acoustic instrumentation. Tyner, who was widely imitated, was one of the most recognizable and most influential pianists in jazz history.

Ahmad Jamal American jazz pianist

Ahmad Jamal is an American jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator. For five decades, he has been one of the most successful small-group leaders in jazz.

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Concert hall in Glasgow City, Scotland, UK

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is a major concert and arts venue, in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. It is owned by Glasgow City Council and operated by Glasgow Life, an agency of Glasgow City Council, which also runs Glasgow's City Halls and Old Fruitmarket venue.

Louie Bellson American jazz drummer, a composer, arranger, bandleader, and jazz educator

Louis Bellson, known by the stage name Louie Bellson, was an American jazz drummer. He was a composer, arranger, bandleader, and jazz educator, and is credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums.

Snooky Young American musician

Eugene Edward "Snooky" Young was an American jazz trumpeter. He was known for his mastery of the plunger mute, with which he was able to create a wide range of sounds.

<i>Black Tie White Noise</i> 1993 studio album by David Bowie

Black Tie White Noise is the 18th studio album by English musician David Bowie. Released in 1993, it was his first solo release in the 1990s and his first solo album in nearly six years, after spending time with his hard rock band Tin Machine, retiring his old hits on his Sound+Vision Tour, and marrying supermodel Iman. This album was an attempt to make "a new kind of melodic form of house" music and featured his old guitarist from the Ziggy Stardust era, Mick Ronson, who died of cancer 24 days after the album's release. This album was inspired by his own wedding and includes tracks such as "The Wedding" and its reprise at the end of the album as a song reflecting the occasion.

Saul Rubinek Canadian actor

Saul Rubinek is a German-born Canadian character actor, director, playwright, and producer of television, theatre, and film. He has had roles in notable films including Against All Odds (1984), Wall Street (1987), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), True Romance (1993), and Unforgiven (1992).

<i>La création du monde</i> ballet

La Création du monde, Op. 81a, is a 15-minute-long ballet composed by Darius Milhaud in 1922–23 to a libretto by Blaise Cendrars, which outlines the creation of the world based on African folk mythology. The premiere took place on 25 October 1923 at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

<i>Gaslight</i> (1940 film) 1940 film by Thorold Dickinson

Gaslight is a 1940 British psychological thriller film directed by Thorold Dickinson which stars Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, and features Frank Pettingell. The film adheres more closely to the original play upon which it is based – Patrick Hamilton's Gas Light (1938) – than the 1944 MGM remake. The play had been performed on Broadway as Angel Street, so when the MGM remake was released in the United States, it was given the same title as the American production.

Randy Weston American jazz pianist

Randolph Edward "Randy" Weston was an American jazz pianist and composer whose creativity was inspired by his ancestral African connection.

<i>Elevator to the Gallows</i> 1958 film by Louis Malle

Elevator to the Gallows, also known as Lift to the Scaffold (UK), is a 1958 French crime film directed by Louis Malle, starring Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as illicit lovers whose murder plot starts to unravel because of a malfunctioning elevator. The scenario was adapted from a 1956 novel of the same name by Noël Calef.

Ralph Earl Sutton was an American jazz pianist born in Hamburg, Missouri. He was a stride pianist in the tradition of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.

<i>Rock n Rodent</i> 1967 animated short film directed by Abe Levitow

Rock 'n' Rodent is a 1967 Tom and Jerry short directed by Abe Levitow and produced by Chuck Jones, and featured music by Carl Brandt, with additional music by David Benoit. The title is a pun on "rock and roll", despite that the music played is jazz. Animation was by Ben Washam, Dick Thompson, Tom Ray, Don Towsley and Ken Harris.

Tenen Holtz was an American actor. He appeared in nearly 60 films between 1926 and 1961.

Jason Mantzoukas American actor and comedian

Jason Mantzoukas is a Greek American comedic actor, writer, and podcaster. He is best known for his recurring role as Rafi in the FX comedy series The League, and as one of the three co-hosts of the podcast How Did This Get Made? alongside Paul Scheer and June Diane Raphael. Mantzoukas has also appeared in the films The Dictator, Sleeping with Other People, They Came Together, Conception, and John Wick: Chapter 3. He has had recurring roles on three TV shows created by Michael Schur: Parks and Recreation ; Brooklyn Nine-Nine ; and The Good Place. He also voices the character Jay Bilzerian in the Netflix animated series Big Mouth, and Alex Dorpenberger in the HBO Max animated series Close Enough. He is known for often playing "crazy, funny weirdos."

The Upstage Club

The Upstage Club was a legendary coffee shop, music venue, and afterhours club in Asbury Park, New Jersey, United States and featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Influential musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bill Chinnock, Southside Johnny, David Sancious, Little Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Vini Lopez, and Danny Federici first honed their live performance skills at the club. It was where the Asbury Jukes, Steel Mill and the Blackberry Blues Band were formed.