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Off-Broadway Review: “Anatomy of a Suicide” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday March 15, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Anatomy of a Suicide” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday March 15, 2020)
Written by Alice Birch
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Fact, the very Fact that it is biologically possible is Devastating. I need to know that I am where it ends.” – Bonnie to Diane

If a suicide could be dissected, what would be found that explained its provenance, it’s development, it’s cure? The morphology of a suicide is examined in Alice Birch’s dense “Anatomy of a Suicide” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. Three women of different generations grapple with their brokenness, their loneliness, and their quest for wholeness as the specter of suicide hovers over them and informs their intimate decisions about the vicissitudes of life, including the wisdom of its propagation.

Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s assiduous and resolute direction, three actors portray three heroic characters facing their mortality and their participation in its untimely occurrence. We first meet Carol (a broken but stoic Carla Gugino) in the corridor of a hospital with her husband John (a concerned but ineffectual Richard Topol) who tries to comfort and distract Carol after attempting suicide. This isn’t Carol’s first endeavor to end her life and she is confident it will not be her last. She decides that she might be able to assuage the nagging enticement to leave this mortal coil by having a child. Perhaps caring for a baby can help Carol “stay for as long as [she] possibly can. Perhaps she can stay for her daughter Anna. Ultimately, that child Anna (an engaging Ava Briglia) receives devastating news from her father that reverberates throughout her life.

Carol’s “story” shares Mariana Sanchez’s expansive set with the narratives of the other two women and their families, friends, and antagonists. Being at the helm of this imposing production is not an easy task. Playwright Alice Birch’s script is no respecter of time or space and the action involves the overlapping of the women’s three “memoires” without regard to chronology or location. Conversations swaddle one another with a chilling pragmatic tone and require the undivided attention of the audience. Suicide’s anatomy is also no hostage to logic, or chronology, or landscape. Like Ms. Sanchez’s encroaching setting, suicide looms large over its victims. The lighting design by Jiyoun Chang and the projection design by Hannah Wasileski add to the mindscape that embodies the play’s progression.

As Carol’s narration unfolds, her adult daughter Anna (a damaged and hapless Celeste Arias) takes center stage as she deals with her own future battles with drug use and suicide. To experience past and future play out simultaneously is transformational. Anna, too, decides that giving birth and caring for her infant might mitigate her suicidal ideations. Anna interacts with her health care provider Dan (an impatient and dispassionate Vince Nappo), her father John, and her husband Jamie (a compassionate and introspective Julian Elijah Martinez) and in each case exhibits denial and delusional behavior. The birth of her child does not decrease her suicidal ideation and the decision she makes about her future is a moment of catharsis and soul-searching for the audience – a moment that will not be easily forgotten.

The third narrative features Bonnie (a cerebral and yet passionate Gabby Beans) a health care professional and her patient Jo (a demanding and needy Jo Mei) who becomes a love interest and a stalker and a catalyst for the decision Bonnie ultimately makes about her family history of suicide and her decision how to end the generational anatomy of suicide. Bonnie interacts with a variety of characters including her colleague Tim (a soulless and dispassionate Jason Babinsky); however, none is more poignant than the exchange between Bonnie and Diane (a clinical and distracted Miriam Silverman) and the medical choice Bonnie makes despite Diane’s reluctance to assist her.

The anatomy of suicide is larger than life. Playwright Alice Birch and director Lileana Blain-Cruz capture that enormity and the surrounding need for discussion with heartfelt grace and impassioned urgency.


“Anatomy of a Suicide” features Celeste Arias, Jason Babinsky, Gabby Beans, Ava Briglia, Carla Gugino, Julian Elijah Martinez, Jo Mei, Vince Nappo, Miriam Silverman, and Richard Topol.

“Anatomy of a Suicide” features scenic design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, projection design by Hannah Wasileski, and casting by Telsey + Company; Karyn Casl, CSA; Madison Sylvester.

“Anatomy of a Suicide” runs at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 W. 20th Street) through Sunday March 15, 2020. To purchase tickets and for the full performance schedule, visit Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Julian Elijah Martinez and Celeste Arias in “Anatomy of a Suicide.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 27, 2020