Play: “Suicide, Inc.”
Group: RS Theatrics
Venue: ArtSpace, 220 Crestwood Court, Sappington at Watson
Dates: May 20-22
Tickets: $10; contact 314-968-8070 or RSTheatrics@yahoo.com
Story: Scott has interviewed 28 candidates for a job opening with his firm, but so far isn’t pleased with what he’s seen. After all, Scott runs Suicide, Inc., and he’s more than a little suspicious of the motives of various interviewees seeking to fill the position of suicide note editor. He believes they may actually want the post so that they then can help prevent despondent customers from ending their lives.
The 29th applicant, however, convinces Scott that he’s the man for the job. Jason, a young man who has worked hard to raise his brother Tommy since the death of their parents, shows Scott a sample of his writing for Hallmark cards and the latter is suitably impressed. He and his assistant, Perry, welcome Jason aboard and then quickly test him with a new applicant, Norm. It seems that Norm is devastated that his wife has left him, compounded with the loss of his job.
Jason coaches Norm on style and substance in his would-be suicide note, under the watchful eye of his boss, who dreams of franchising Suicide, Inc. nationwide and making a killing, so to speak, on the largely untapped market of men who contemplate ending their lives. There’s a lot at stake for Scott financially if Jason proves his mettle as a conscientious employee. But what if Jason has ulterior motives after all?
Highlights: A one-act work by playwright Andrew Hinderaker, “Suicide, Inc.” debuted in 2010 at Chicago’s Gift Theatre and was included on the Chicago Tribune’s list of top-rated productions of the year. It’s easy to understand why when viewing the St. Louis premiere of this beguiling story. Lovingly nurtured by co-directors Randy Stinebaker, managing/artistic director of RS Theatrics, and creative director Christina Rios, their sextet of players convey both the abundant humor and the sobering drama inherent in Hinderaker’s provocative script.
Other Info: RS Theatrics bills its production as a “staged reading,” but it’s substantially more than that. All of the performers know their lines and work without a script. As a result, the audience benefits not only from absorbing the potent dialogue but also seeing the players immerse themselves into their roles completely. It’s a richly satisfying interpretation of a very clever tale that consistently re-invents itself throughout its 90 minutes.
B. Weller sizzles in his portrayal of Scott. He brings out the cold and calculating assessment Scott sees in suicides, a capitalistic opportunist whose morals appear to be strictly focused on filthy lucre. Deft staging by the directors allows us to see Scott’s reactions to conversations between Jason and Norm that accentuate his character’s motivation, which Weller hammers home with eruptions of emotion.
Mark Kelley handsomely complements Weller with an incisive portrayal of Jason. He captures Jason’s complex motivations with steady assurance, smoothly working his character’s relationships with his boss, his brother and his customer in affection fashion. As Norm, Charlie Barron offers another example of the finely tuned interpretations he brings to a wide variety of roles. Adept both at comedy and tragedy, Barron depicts Norm’s vulnerability in carefully revealed moments, emphasizing the character’s substance as well as his turmoil.
Aaron Dodd, Mark Saunders and Kevin Stroup add to the luster of the production with fine performances of their own. Dodd shows us the insecurity and immaturity of Tommy, an aimless youth who struggles to please his older brother. Saunders has a nice turn as Scott’s lightweight but well-intentioned assistant Perry, while Stroup plays one of the police officers who regularly stop by with fatal news about Scott’s sundry clients.
Action takes place on technical director Jim Meady’s simple but sufficient set, which employs a sofa and coffee table at stage left for Jason and Tommy’s home and a table and chairs in the center for Scott’s office, all lit effectively by Meady.
Interestingly, Hinderaker abandons one logical ending for his story in a key scene with Scott and chooses instead to elongate the tale for another 10 minutes or so. The resulting denouement is decidedly different but not necessarily better, and drags the work out unnecessarily as a result. Regardless, “Suicide, Inc.” is one of those efforts that rewards its audience with a story that challenges both intelligence and emotion.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.