There must be something in the HVAC system this fall at the Roundabout’s Off Broadway digs. Two weeks ago came the preem of Stephen Karam’s stellar “Sons of the Prophet,” and now there’s Andrew Hinderaker’s “Suicide, Incorporated” in the venue’s smaller sub-basement space. Play isn’t quite up to the level of the Karam play, but even so, this offering in the low-priced Roundabout Underground series is a provocative work from a new playwright, with a good cast and canny production.
A play called “Suicide, Incorporated” is likely to be either a raucously macabre black comedy or wrenchingly grim. Hinderaker concentrates on the former until the serious side intrudes and things turn intense. Majority of ticketbuyers at the preview attended laughed for an hour, then were moved to sniffles by the final scenes.
The “inc.” of the title is Legacy Letters, which provides high caliber editing services — at a steep fee — for suicide notes. Jason (Gabriel Ebert) is a former Hallmark writer who mysteriously turns up available for suicide work. Scott (Toby Leonard Moore) is the proprietor and Perry (Corey Hawkins) a staff writer pushed aside by the newcomer, while Jason’s younger brother Tommy (Jake O’Connor) is very much involved, as is hapless suicide-client Norm (James McMenamin).
Hinderaker is a Chicago playwright connected with Chicago Dramatists and the Gift Theater (which originated this play in June 2010). The writing is bright and refreshing, although the setup is not exactly convincing and there are perhaps too many twists in the plot. The major surprise is not too surprising, but it works in the context of the play and its characters.
Cast is up to the challenge, fully engaged in the comedy until the time comes for the abrupt gear change. Jason, the ex-Hallmark man, is well played by Gabriel Ebert, while Toby Leonard Moore, an Australian making his New York stage debut, is especially good as the proprietor of the suicide mill.
Director Jonathan Berry repeats his Chi assignment here with different cast and designers, and like Hinderaker shows promise. His use of visual freeze frames and brusque scene changes — with Ebert mechanistically thrusting scenic pieces off through the wing — helps propel the action. Set designer Daniel Zimmerman also contributes with several surprises, albeit on a small scale.
Play is the latest offering of emerging artist-centric Roundabout Underground, which launched in 2007 with Karam’s “Speech and Debate,” introducing the scribe to New York audiences and directly resulting in the Roundabout commission of “Sons of the Prophet.” Shows like “Speech” and “Suicide, Incorporated” can indeed help foster eager young playgoers — especially when you give them provocative writing and first-rate talent for little more than the price of a movie ticket.