Review: Dying For It, Every Brilliant Thing

Dying For It
Atlantic Theater Company – Linda Gross Theater
Through January 18, 2015

Every Brilliant Thing
Barrow Street Theater
Through March 29, 2015

The common thread here is suicide, with both pieces evidence humor and great empathy.

“Dying For It” is a more conventional play, and a true ensemble-driven farce about suicide, at that. Playwright Moira Buffini’s adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s “The Suicide,” which was banned in Russia when it was written in 1928 and not performed there until the 1980s, is the tale of a man so bereft of reasons to live under the Stalinist regime that he announces he will kill himself at an appointed hour. The townspeople seek to leverage his death as political statement, as representative of the failure of religion, and as a money-making proposition. There is music! There is comedy! There is love (and resentment)! This isn’t the greatest long-lost play of the century, but it works. The cast, with Joey Slotnick in the central role of would-be suicide Semyon Smyonovich Podeskalnikov, is particularly apt with a maniacal, frenzied performance. Directed by the Atlantic artistic director Neil Pepe. (Seen January 6, 2015.)

“Every Brilliant Thing” falls into the looser category of “performance piece,” but is no less dramatic for it. This is the story of a son, played by Jonny Donahoe, whose mother first attempts suicide when the boy is 7. With an uncommunicative father, the boy’s response is to start a list of all the things worth living for — a 7-year-old’s view, of course. The son adds to the list over the years, as the mother attempts suicide repeatedly, and in response to other life events. That the mother will succeed is never in question. That the son will go through the worry of whether he is prone to suicide, and that his mother’s story (and their relationship) will cast shadows over his life, are also never in question. Donahoe takes a ringmaster’s approach to his material, incorporating the audience brilliantly (this is NOT “audience participation” in any usual sense), and weaves sweetness through the pain without diminishing the drama. Written by Duncan Macmillan and Donahoe; directed by George Perrin. See it. (Seen January 11, 2015.)

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