REVIEW: Suicide, Incorporated (Gift Theatre)

Working 9 to 5 – for an Easier Way Out

 

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Gift Theatre presents
  
Suicide, Incorporated
   
Written by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by
Jonathan Berry
at
Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Gift Theatre’s tightly woven cast make the most of Andrew Hinderaker’s world premiere one-act, Suicide, Incorporated. Directed by Jonathan Berry, the play cleverly provides them with a lot of most to make. First, it features a business whose mission is to mold a suicide’s dead-end perspective into a skillfully crafted final farewell letter; second, the play depicts the general corporate tendency to reframe life’s tragedies into manageable chunks of reality that will yield to its scripted dialogues and flowcharts. Scott, owner and founder of the business, is played with sharp, savage and mercenary relish by Ed Flynn. Yet even he is just using the tools he’s learned in business school to create order against the inexorable pull of suicide’s black hole. Too bad he cannot avoid creating new victims, like his manically kiss-ass assistant, Perry (Jay Worthington).

josh&mikediner-1.jpg_20100616_13_54_26_26-116-165 We find his new employee, Jason (Joshua Rollins), a writer of former Hallmark Card fame, already well down that rabbit hole—conversing with shadowy figures like his younger brother Tommy (Mike Harvey) and last-chance customers like wheelchair-bound Norm (Michael Patrick Thornton). The spookiness of Jason’s conversations with his brother doesn’t become apparent until midpoint through the play’s progress–this is perhaps the biggest flaw of Gift Theatre’s production or Hinderaker’s play. Stronger foreshadowing of Jason’s true relationship with Tommy is necessary for greater impact. Also, a clearer sense of Jason’s edginess would also lend veracity to his final intentions in the play’s last 15 minutes.

But, as a general rule, Suicide, Incorporated is not about family bonds—it’s about life under a business model, wherein the company of men becomes your real family, whether you want it to or not. All work and no play, that’s the quintessence of Jason’s character—stereotypically forming stronger bonds with the people he works with, or serves at work, rather than with his own flesh and blood. Lucky for the audience, Jason’s growing relationship with new customer Norm makes for the real backbone of the show.

Thornton’s performance as Norm is immaculate; every tic and pause perfectly timed—an actor’s showcase of steady, low-key, precise technique. Such an accurate portrayal makes Norm’s confession about how he ruined the love 89of his life simultaneously bizarre and eerily truthful. “How did I become one of those guys?” Norm asks; the lone guy you thought could never hurt a fly, the lone guy who loses his newlywed wife by stalking her. It’s a masterpiece of characterization.

All these lonely men—where do they all come from? That was the question I was forced to ask myself at the close of Suicide, Incorporated. If Hindraker’s play holds any water, then it seems that they all come from business school or from workplaces that barely feed their souls or even lets them know that they have souls to feed–or lives worth living outside the workplace. It’s only a one-act, but what goes missing the most from the play is the acknowledgement that these male characters were never encouraged to be whole to begin with. Once they have lost someone vitally important to them, yet existing outside the business model, will they ever get a real chance to be whole again?

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm with Sunday matinees at 2:30.

Featuring Gift Artistic Director and ABC’s Private Practice’s Michael Patrick Thornton with guest artists Josh Rollins, Mike Harvey, Ed Flynn, Jay Worthington and Jim Farruggio.

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REVIEW: 40 Whacks (Annoyance Theatre)

Rich Girl Gone Bad—Really, Really Bad

 

   
Annoyance Theatre presents
    
40 Whacks
   
Book/Lyrics by Aggie Hewitt
Music/Lyrics by
Lisa McQueen
Directed by
Irene Marquette
at
Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through August 6  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud (and, after the break, Barry Eitel)

Just who is Lizzie Borden to the average person today—a reclaimed feminist icon from the 19th-century or a poor little rich girl gone really, really bad? Lisa McQueen (music and lyrics) and Aggie Hewitt (book and lyrics) get to have it both ways with their masterful musical comedy 40 Whacks, now playing Fridays at the Annoyance Theatre. Truth to tell, Lizzie (Ellen Stoneking) wins audience applause at the end of the show because – after a wild ride of mayhem and mistrial – she gets away with it all.

Irene Marquette directs a cunning comidic cast, who lay it all on the line about the good ol’, bad ol’ days surrounding this murder, America’s sordid Gilded Age. Even if Lizzie is no feminist heroine—largely because the glass ceiling she bumps into is  about sharing part of her inheritance with her stepmother, Abby (Jennifer Estlin)—the show is, nevertheless, very conscious about the limitations women faced in the 1892, in and out of marriage. Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden (Noah Gregoropolous), gets thoroughly hosed in the script as the Borden family’s patriarchal douche bag. But Gregoropolous’s dry, deadpan pronouncements on women’s menstrual cycles and mental states make us wish he wasn’t off to see his maker so quickly.

What amazes most about this production is its restraint. Marquette has adhered to a little more class and period consciousness than one usually sees in Annoyance productions. Higher production values in scenic design and costuming, coupled with hints of ragtime in McQueen’s musical score, give the audience a stronger sense of old-timey mass murder–all the better with which to sail into the production’s more off-the-wall, anachronistic moments. After a steady diet of arsenic poisoning and a failed attempt at getting medical help, Abby starts to make Uncle John’s (Mike Maltz) bed on the second floor. We know that her mortal comeuppance at Lizzie’s hands is imminent. However, Abby still gets a glorious swansong before her demise, covering the Carpenters’ 1972 hit “I’ll say goodbye to love.”

That’s not the end to this show’s imaginative flights of fancy. The cast knows how to pour it on for Lizzie’s trial, which Lizzie gets to observe through nothing less than a court-ordered morphine haze. Maltz is charming as Uncle John Morse–what with his little crush on the family Irish maid Bridget (Chelsea Farmer)–but he really excels at delivering the trippy, whacked out opening remarks as the prosecuting attorney. Cristin McAlister, demurely spoiled and vindictive as Lizzie’s sister Emma, really gets to step out and shake it as Lizzie’s defense. Sherman Edwards, as the casual and celebrity conscious judge overseeing trial proceedings, seals the circus for what it is. “Will you be dignified and respectful of the court system?” he mildly asks of the audience before Lizzie arrives. His understated delivery already informs us we need not be.

What seals the deal for this show is its excellent music. There are times when the score strays into operetta territory and that’s when I begin to ask whether the producers have created something a little beyond Annoyance’s typical schlock comedy fare. 40 Whacks definitely delivers more sophistication, while keeping a light, crude touch to get across Lizzie’s overwhelming sense of entitlement. I, of course, am screaming for more and I hope Annoyance’s audiences will too.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  

 

* Review #2 after the fold *

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