The Washington Post

No Rules Theatre troupe has little pep in ‘Suicide Incorporated’

Joe Isenberg, left, provides some zip as the cartoonishly sleazy Scott. Spencer Trinwith, right, is a troubled customer. (C. Stanley Photography)

As business plans go, Scott’s will surely never make the case study annals of Wharton. Hanging out a shingle for a company that writes suicide notes for those seeking grammatical assistance as they end it all, Scott has not only chosen a decidedly boutique enterprise but also one that is guaranteed to attract absolutely no return customers.

The idea fares little better in the theatrical marketplace, at least as it’s elucidated in No Rules Theatre’s dramatically inert “Suicide, Incorporated.” The one-act play by Andrew Hinderaker is the product of the forced marriage of sketch comedy and earnest, social drama. Alas, the premise doesn’t get much of a boost from director Joshua Morgan, who, despite the loud music punctuating the scene transitions, fails to elicit from his cast much in the way of pulsing energy.

The 80-minute piece, performed at the soon-to-be vacated H Street Playhouse, loses momentum almost as quickly as the conceit is established. Joe Isenberg’s cartoonishly sleazy Scott, a neurotic bundle with greased-back hair — and isn’t he just the sort of person to whom the suicidal would turn? — hires the placid Jason (Brian Sutow) to be one of Legacy Letters’s sales associates. Ah, but Jason has a convenient secret. By night, he volunteers for the natural competitors for Scott’s client base: a crisis hotline.

This might be fun if it weren’t so lugubrious. (It’s a given that the concept is absurd, but an idea of what exactly the company’s service entails and what its letters sound like would help.) Guilt-ridden Jason harbors other motives for seeking work at Legacy Letters, revealed in his hallucinated conversations with his brother Tommy (Dylan Jackson), who reminds him at every turn how impossible it had been to get Jason’s attention at an earlier, life-or-death juncture.

Hinderaker received encouraging reviews for the piece when it was produced in Chicago and off-Broadway. Although there’s a triteness in the plotting — more than a sufficient cadre of characters contemplate offing themselves or remain traumatized by a suicide in their lives — you can see how a bracing edge might lift up the fairly tautly written scenes. But Morgan’s production, staged in-the-round on designer Steven Royal’s clinical-looking, all-white set, dulls the drama’s pep.

While Isenberg’s oleaginous Scott provides some zip — and Adam Downs is commendably servile as Scott’s verbally abused underling Perry — the performances by Sutow and the others are far too bland. A lengthy speech by a troubled Legacy customer, portrayed by Spencer Trinwith, is supposed to outline the troubled spirits of those inclined to destroy themselves. Unfortunately, the interlude succeeds only in stopping the show cold.

No Rules is a young company that, programmatically, is still in an exploratory stage; its promising presentations this season of “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers” and Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss” showed the more compelling directions the troupe might be headed. For the trickier tone changes of a play such as “Suicide, Incorporated,” however, No Rules needs to consult a more reliable manual.

Suicide, Incorporated

by Andrew Hinderaker. Directed by Joshua Morgan. Set, Steven Royal; costumes, Chelsey Schuller; lighting, Andrew Dorman; sound and original music, Jason Waggoner. With Howard Wahlberg. About 80 minutes. Through June 23 at H Street Playhouse, 1365
H St. NE. .

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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