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BWW Review: Alice Birch's ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE, A Verbal Chamber Trio Themed On A Neurological Legacy


"The text has been 'scored'," states the script for British playwright Alice Birch's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning Anatomy of a Suicide, a fascinating, tragic piece about a neurological legacy shared by three generations of women, now receiving a fine American premiere at the Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater.

Anatomy of a Suicide
Carla Gugino (Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

Mapped out like a chamber trio, each page of text contains up to three columns of dialogue, representing up to three scenes that play simultaneously, with lines, beats and hesitations precisely marked so that that author dictates exactly what is heard when.

Sometimes scenes mesh and cohabitate generously. Sometimes they collide, and when they do, those foolish enough to try and follow it all at the same time will surely suffer a metal jam-up, but through tone and staging, director Lileana Blain-Cruz effectively guides our attention, though naturally, audience members may tend to focus on the scenes played closest to them.

The triptych is played out on designer Mariana Sanchez's neutrally institutional set, with the most prominent, and given the title of the play, the most ominous visual being the upstage clawfoot bathtub.

It begins in a hospital corridor where Carol's (Carla Gugino) bandaged wrists provide all the exposition needed. Her husband's (Richard Topol) attempts at support are perceived by her as an annoyance and the birth of their daughter Anna seems an unwanted anchor, adding a guilty consequence to Carol's giving in to the desire her disease fuels.

Anatomy of a Suicide
Gabby Beans and Jo Mei
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

Precocious young Anna is played by Ava Briglia, and her presence informs our view of the character as an adult (Celeste Arias), who endures drug addiction and has a child with her filmmaker husband Jamie (Julian Elijah Martinez).

That child, Bonnie (Gabby Beans), grows up to be a doctor, whose protective emotional shall tests the open-hearted romantic persistence of the smitten patient (Jo Mei) she hesitantly starts dating.

If the characters aren't written with substantial depth, that's not a flaw. The focus is on finding clues within the simultaneously played stories that draw parallels, and suggest inherited characteristics, among the three main women.

Supporting actors play multiple parts and keeping track of who's who can get confusing (Whose little kid is Briglia in this scene?), but ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE is worth the extra concentration.

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From This Author Michael Dale