Playwright: Andrew Hinderaker. At: Gift Theatre Company, 4802 N. Milwaukee. Tickets: 773-283-7071; www.thegifttheatre.org; $25-$30. Runs through: July 25
There are two plays within Suicide, Incorporated, neither one which is fully developed nor at ease with the other. Play One is a dark satire in which Jason gives up his career writing greeting cards to write for Legacy Letters, a business that helps those bent on self-destruction leave appropriate suicide notes. The company's aggressively controlling founder, Scott, is a bully who drives one of his employees to off himself. Play Two is an examination of the 30,000 annual suicides in the United States80 percent committed by men, most of who do not leave notes.
Author Andrew Hinderaker really can't have it both ways, not in a play of just 90 minutes, and he quickly tips his hand in favor of Play Two. SPOILER ALERT: By the second time we see Jason's college-age brother, it becomes clear that Tommy is a ghosta horrible suicide for whose death Jason holds himself responsible to the point that Jason seriously flirts with killing himself. It has to do with guilt and the male sense of disempowerment in failing to save someone we love. Jason goes to work for Legacy Letters as expiation; to save clients rather than assist them to their ends.
The problems with Play One are: ( a ) Scott, the boss, is such an asshole that no man with balls would work for him for more than two minutes; ( b ) Play One disappears about an hour into the work when it's served its purpose; and ( c ) author Hinderaker never lets his audience hear any suicide notes created by Legacy Letters, thus missing a huge and golden opportunity for satire that might morph into something deeper.
The problems with Play Two are: ( a ) Jason and Tommy have family history issues which explain their relationship but are beside the point; ( b ) viewed entirely from Jason's perspective, we never know Tommy well enough to understand why he offed himself; and ( c ) the details we do learn are so particular as to make one guess that Hinderaker has drawn from personal experience, which would be a great sorrow if true but not helpful in clarifying the ideas he attempts to present.
Director Jonathan Berry keeps things simple and flowing on Dan Stratton's neutral modern set in which white doors and walls, freestanding against black, define Jason's apartment and the Legacy Letters office. As one expects at Gift Theatre, the acting is intense, committed and sympathetic where it needs to be ( chiefly in Joshua Rollins and Mike Harvey as brothers Jason and Tommy ) . In an uncharacteristic quiet, even delicate, turn, company founder Michael Patrick Thornton plays the client Jason wants to save.
There's much potential in this world premiere, but it needs to get bigger before Hinderaker pares it back.