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A CurtainUp Review
Originally produced by the Gift Theatre in Chicago, Suicide, Incorporated is again directed by Jonathan Berry with the finesse that this play’s clever mix of pathos and playfulness deserves. At first it is a little hard to get our bearings on the play’s sense of reality as Jason (Gabriel Ebert) goes for an interview for a job at a company that offers assistance to those who have decided to commit suicide i.e. to literally polish and improve upon their clients’ suicide notes.
The interview itself gets the play off to a very funny start, as it is conducted by the company’s super slick and glib owner Scott (Toby Leonard Moore), a man whose unorthodox method to decide whether Jason has the right qualifications is more like an interrogation designed to entrap. Scott sounds a bit like a con man but seems completely earnest and dedicated to his company even as he is openly condescending to the nevertheless pleasantly compliant Perry (Corey Hawkins), a staff writer who remains in the room.
Jason has the necessary background credentials and proves to Scott that he has what it takes to do the job and is quickly assigned a client who walks into the office. It is pretty clear that the melancholy and notably anxious Norm (James McMenamin) has made up his mind, but has yet to be satisfied with his own literary effort. In short, Norm becomes Jason’s first assignment.
What is slowly revealed through Jason’s subtle inquiries in regard to Norm’s objective with his note is that Jason is really trying to make Norm question his decision and then hopefully talk him out of committing suicide. This does not go by unnoticed by Scott who becomes enraged by what he sees as Jason’s undermining of the company’s policies. It takes some doing but Jason convinces Scott he is doing his job.
The darkly comedic aspects of the play soon turn more brooding and thought-provoking as Jason returns to his home where he is apparently visited with regularity by the ghost of his younger deceased brother Tommy (Jake O’Connor). The confrontations between Jason and Tommy reveal Jason’s feelings of guilt for not seriously paying attention to the signs that were clear indications of Tommy’s troubled emotional state, especially in the light of him being Tommy’s guardian. He admits to being negligent as was more focused on his own career. The play pivots between Jason attempt to change his client Norm’s mind, and his own mission to finally bring closure to his personal grief – being forever haunted by the memory of Tommy’s death.
The action crisscrosses between our concerns for the way that Norm is being overtly, if also unwittingly, manipulated and the way that Jason is being manipulated by his memories of Tommy. On the periphery, the play also gives credence to co-worker Perry’s fate and to the callous Scott’s materialistic perspective on what is going on around him. Although the plot’s detours and devices don’t exactly take us either by surprise or shock, they are persuasive in a way that makes even some of the more far-fetched situations quite moving.
What is immediately noticeable and notable is the cleverly wry tone that Hinderaker uses to embrace his deadly serious subject. Just as it is easy to recall Ebert’s fine performance last season as Leo (another character in search of closure) in 4,000 Miles, he leaves another lasting impression as the sensitive, deeply wounded Jason. O’Connor is reaffirming (he was terrific in last season’s The Dream of the Burning Boy at this theater) his potential as one of the more magnetic young actors as the ill-fated Tommy. Moore earns the laughs he gets as the smarmy entrepreneur Scott and gets the play off to a good start.
The sad undercurrent that flows through Corey’s performance as the otherwise carefree Perry is as telling as is the deepening resolve that permeates McMenanmin's performance as Norm. Especially noteworthy is the ease in which the action moves to various locations within the by-white-defined space designed by Daniel Zimmerman. Entertaining as it is also strangely unsettling, Suicide, Incorporated is exactly the kind of play (another example of the loopy Chicago style,) that warrants our admiration, as well as the support it is undeniably getting from the Roundabout.
It can’t just be luck that the five plays (The Language of Trees, Ordinary Days, Tigers Be Still, The Dream of the Burning Boy) presented so far by The Roundabout Theater over the past five seasons through their New Play Initiative at the Laura Pel’s Black Box Theater have proven the value of a major New York theater company cultivating the work of up-and-coming playwrights.
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