The art of crying onstage is a delicate one: It takes authenticity, control, and just the right amount of glassy-eyed vulnerability under the spotlights. But Spencer Trinwith has got it down. As Norm, a suicidal client in No Rules Theatre Company’s Suicide, Incorporated, now playing at the H Street Playhouse, Trinwith’s brimming, bloodshot eyes wield a surprising amount of power from the moment he first appears onstage. Not that his five male castmates always keep their eyes dry in playwright Andrew Hinderaker’s intimate new drama—each of the actors offers up impressive emotional ranges. But in a play that centers on heavy subject matter in an enclosed black-box space, Trinwith’s unstable character strikes the raw nerve this production is aiming for.
Billed as a “tragicomedy,” Suicide leans decidedly more tragic than comedic, with the main source of humor being the show’s novel premise: Jason (Brian Sutow) has just landed a position as an editor at Legacy Letters, a company that helps clients who just can’t take it anymore pen the perfect suicide note. When the distraught Norm comes in for a consultation on his first draft, Jason forgoes the company line discouraging bonding with clients and works with Norm to deal with both his prose and his demons, which in turn allows him to deal with a few of his own. Sutow’s performance is a little stiff at first, but as the show progresses he gains layers and nuance. The other members of the small cast hold their own, and Joe Isenberg stands out as Scott, the company’s smarmy, gum-chomping, emotionally stunted CEO.
Between the clients struggling to find their perfect parting words for a cruel world and the other characters’ attempts to stifle their own feelings of guilt and regret, much of the action here centers on the importance of emotional expression and the dangerous societal norms that repress it, particularly for men. Breaking one’s silence—or succumbing to its weight—is the thread that runs through the storyline. Director Joshua Morgan uses that contrast to his advantage, deftly filling his interpretation with tense moments devoid of any sound at all—the striking kind of quiet that makes audience members in the small performance space afraid to exhale.
Andrew Dorman’s lighting design incorporates harsh fluorescent tones to illuminate a formal corporate culture that trades on people’s most personal sorrow for its own gain (a scene where Scott runs through the company’s spring specials is particularly nauseating). A simple set of sleek, interlocking cubes against stark white office tiles compounds the effect, especially when compared to the colorful, crumpled, handwritten drafts, complete with grammar and punctuation errors scrawled in red, that scenic designer Steven Royal has strewn around the stage doors.
Tackling intense notions of hopelessness, resentment, guilt, and love, Suicide is ambitious and inventive, with the potential to tap powerful truths, but some unevenness in the script and a few illogical plotlines keep the material from achieving all that it might have been able to. The talented actors commit themselves fully even in scenes that feel far-fetched, creating a thought-provoking drama worth watching.
No Rules Theatre Company’s production of Suicide, Incorporated is at the H Street Playhouse through June 23. Running time is one hour and 20 minutes (no intermission). Tickets ($25) are available through the company’s website.