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If corporations are people, what of the company that’s in it to help you end it? That’s the business of Legacy Letters, the unlikely setting for No Rules Theatre Company’s darker-than-dark workplace comedy that is Suicide, Incorporated. Proprietor Scott (Joe Isenberg) argues at one point that a well-crafted leave-behind note is the least the depressed can do for their soon-to-be-grieving loved ones, and so in helping them cobble together a moving missive, he’s practically doing God’s work. Get him talking about market potential and franchise opportunities, though, and you’ll suspect more cynical motivations behind the enterprise.
Unlikely premise? Sure, but writer Andrew Hinderaker figures you can roll with that, and certainly audiences have swallowed more. The trouble isn’t the strangeness of the conceit, but the tidiness with which the play’s events unfold; each revelation about new writing hire Jason (Brian Sutow) and his insistent younger brother Tommy (Dylan Jackson) feels inevitable—-and not in the high-tragic sense, but in the because-the-writer-said-so sense. In a story about human lives coming messily apart, there’s little of the chaos and disorder of daily human life, even when Legacy Letters’ second-most-senior employee (Adam Downs), feeling undervalued, takes drastic personnel action.
Director Joshua Morgan keeps the 80-minute production moving at a (mostly) energetic pace, punctuating scene transitions with brisk reconfigurations of a modular white-box set to suggest an office, a coffee shop, an apartment, and such. And the performances—-Isenberg snarling and savagely energetic, Sutow wary, inwardly focused, anxious to get things right, Spencer Trinwith touchingly hollow-eyed and despairing as a customer at his rope’s end—-are satisfying enough.
In a play that’s literally about life-and-death decisions, though, a sense of the stakes for everyone involved is crucial. Too often, those aren’t as clear or as credible here as they might be.
Suicide, Incorporated runs to June 23 at H Street Playhouse. $25.