By Moira Buffini, based on The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman; Directed by Neil Pepe
Produced by The Atlantic Theater Company
Off Broadway, Play Adaptation
Runs through 1.18.15
Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street
by Jan Rosenberg on 1.8.15
Joey Slotnick and CJ Wilson in Dying For It. Photo by Jane Ahron R. Foster.
BOTTOM LINE: Buffini’s resurrection of a formerly banned play about suicide in Soviet Russia will have you dying with laughter.
Semyon Semyonovich Podeskalnikov is really going to do it. No really, this isn’t a cry for help. He’s going to kill himself. He’s prepared a note and everything. But don’t worry, he’s a fantastic candidate for suicide. Just ask Semyon (Joey Slotnick) himself. He’s absolutely useless. He’s unemployed, contributes nothing to the table, his wife Masha (Jeanine Serralles) can’t stand him, and his mother in-law Serafina (Mary Beth Peil) thinks he’s a fool. He can’t even figure out how to play the tuba. Why not kill himself?
Soviet Russia’s not exactly a blast, so pretty soon the whole town gets swept up in Semyon’s deadly mission. They convince him that his death won’t be in vain. His sacrifice will make him a martyr for society; his will be a “useful, courageous, and meaningful death.” But first he most choose which cause to die for. Former Aristocrat Aristarkh (Robert Stanton) suggests Semyon blame the government and die on behalf of the Russian thinking man. Father Yepildy (Peter Maloney) begs him to die for religion so that Godless people will return to the church. Devoted postman Yegor urges him to do it for the party. The beautiful and highly sensitive Kiki (Clea Lewis) thinks he should die in the name of love. And poet Victor Victorovich (Patch Darragh) wants him to die for Art.
Not everyone is convinced Semyon will go through with it. His wife and mother in-law certainly aren’t impressed. His Marxist neighbor Alexander Petrovich (CJ Wilson) and his lady friend Margarita (Mia Barron) just want to make a profit by selling people the opportunity to decide his fate. With so much riding on his death, what’s to happen if Semyon changes his mind?
Moira Buffini’s roaringly funny adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s forbidden 1928 play The Suicide offers dark comedy at its most wicked. Brilliantly directed by Neil Pepe, the play successfully balances the hysterically outrageous with sobering relevance. Originally banned from production (Stalin wasn’t crazy about satirical mockery), the echoes of the unhappy state of the world ring eerily true today. In the play’s more grounding moments, Semyon’s fear of living is profoundly moving, and Buffini gifts the terrific Slotnick with one of the most powerful monologues in recent memory.
Dying For It’s subject matter may seem daunting, but I found myself wholeheartedly wrapped up in the merriment of the ensemble. Yes, there is plenty of room for merriment in a play about suicide. With a hilarious ensemble, gothic scenic design by Walt Spangler and a darkly transportative score by Josh Schmidt, Dying For It is surprisingly refreshing and powerful, especially in its final haunting moments. Death is no picnic, but the real tragedy would be to miss this play.
(Dying For It plays at Atlantic Theatre Company's Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, through January 18th, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $65 and are available at atlantictheater.org or by calling 866.811.4111.)