Jason (played by Mark Kelley) is hired to spice up suicide notes for people who don’t quite know what to say to those that they are about to leave behind. His boss, Scott (played with appropriate bluster by B Weller), is so desperate to capture that elusive men’s market (the approximate 80% of men who, presumably, are too macho to leave a note) that he’s willing to offer the first man that walks through the door a discount. But writing is not the easiest job in the world, so Jason tells his ne’er-do-well little brother Tommy (Aaron Dodd) – neither is raising an orphaned kid brother to be a responsible member of society. When Jason is handed a prime new client, Norm (Charlie Barron), the boss’ jealous assistant Perry (Mark Saunders) goes into “brownnose overdrive”, scurrying to fetch Krispy Kremes, and polishing his own brand of “Goodbye, cruel world”, Hallmark-esque drivel. But soon we learn that Jason not only wants to save the world from bad writing, he secretly wants to save those tortured writers themselves. But, both he and his boss have skeletons of their own in the proverbial closet, and Jason’s faith is shaken on whether if even he is worthy to save Norm.
Direction by Christina Rios and Randy Stinebaker is nuanced and always on point. They’ve worked hard to make sure that beneath the comedy (and, yes, there is plenty) are real people, in real pain. Much to the credit of Techical Director Jim Meady, sets and lights are simple, rightly firmly placing the focus on the work of the actors. And what fine work there is.
Kelley excels as Jason, truly and painfully connected to both the insanity of the current situation he’s placed himself into, and haunted by a terrible past. His work here is some of the best I’ve seen him do, and that’s something you should see. Weller is in turn hilarious, and kinda scary as the Boss, and his attempt to gloss over a shocking development for his company both proves the point that “real men” will never let you know what’s bothering them (and that’s a real problem) and simultaneously makes you feel a little sorry for this pompous ass. Dodd stealthily draws you in, playing the brother with a perfect blend of stoner cool and little-boy-lost. Saunders camps up the perky assistant, garnering much of the evening’s laughter with excellent timing, and providing a soft heart for the story. Kevin Stroup, as an investigator, holds his own against a group of more strongly defined characters. And, as always, Charlie Barron is the strong anchor to a strong cast, making us feel - a little too closely (which is good) – the extremely painful reality of Norm’s decision, and at the same time helps the audience see how ridiculous this whole set-up is.
I’ve left out plenty of the key plots points (just because I didn’t want to write a SPOILER’S ALERT!), so there is plenty left at which to be surprised, if you decide to head over to RS Theatrics for a truly engaging evening of theater.
Suicide, Inc. continues at RS Theatrics until May 22 in Soundstage’s Theater Space 214 at Crestwood Mall. For reservations, call 314-968-8070.