Suicide, Incorporated Helps You With Your End-Life Letters 

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Suicide, Incorporated
Written by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Jonathan Berry

"It's not a grabber," says Norm (James McMenamin). Morose and middle-aged, he's just read aloud the opening sentence of a letter he's writing to his estranged wife. What he has to say is big—it will be the last thing he can ever express—but it just reads "so small." He needs help and he's come to the right place: Suicide, Inc., a company that specializes in the art of crafting suicide notes, tutoring the dejected on the perfectly worded final farewell. Jason (Gabriel Ebert), a brand new editor with an unorthodox method unsettling to his lawsuit-weary, profit-hungry boss Scott (Toby Leonard Moore), takes Norm under his wing. Roundabout Theatre Company's dazzling New York premiere of Andrew Hinderaker's Chicago hit Suicide, Incorporated (at the Black Box Theater through December 23) traces the progression of Norm's note, from prewriting, list-making, thesis-crafting, topic sentence writing, drafting and re-drafting, right up to the very submission.

The premise is so callous it's obviously absurd—meaning it's funny, but it certainly doesn't lack a basis in naturalism. It's clear from the get-go that we're getting a light, palatable treatment of the darkest of subjects. Simultaneously, the conceit allows for many cathartic moments of projected inwardness. Dream visions, hallucinations, question sessions, brainstorming, reading notes aloud and an acting exercise with a one-way telephone conversation are the most moving, memorable moments that ring out with harrowing truth. Then again, with such a subject so touchy, the script carefully steers clear of anything really provocative; it's actually rather safe. The exposition is tactful and carefully withholds information for a dramatic effect, except when it takes a turn for the earnest. The first scene gives away too much too soon. Multiple binaries between characters are set up, establishing foils and obvious doppelgänger and the work concludes with many not unexpected coincidences.

While the script may falter, the mise en scene does not. Daniel Zimmerman's set, with its whitewashed, Shoji-style sliding partitions is clean and simple and works flawlessly to juxtapose domestic and professional environments. Zach Blane's stunning light design is some of the most elegant and cinematic in recent memory, seamlessly weaving disparate chronological moments, coloring the minimal set and the mood. The cast is superb with a very natural, almost televisual style. Toby Moore as the unfeeling boss Scott is the standout with a great booming voice and many barely noticeable mannerisms that really end up making all the difference.

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

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