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Theater Review: “Suicide, Incorporated” at the H Street Playhouse

No Rules Theatre Company taps powerful truths in this bleak new comedy.

Joe Isenberg and Spencer Trinwith in Andrew Hinderaker’s Suicide, Incorporated. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.

The art of crying onstage is a delicate one: It takes
authenticity, control, and just the right amount of glassy-eyed
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
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,
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
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.