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Review Roundup: Atlantic Theatre Company's ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE - What Did the Critics Think?

Anatomy of a Suicide

Anatomy of a Suicide began performances on February 1 and opened on Tuesday, February 18 at Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street). The production is a limited engagement through March 15, 2020.

Anatomy of a Suicide will feature Celeste Arias (Uncle Vanya), Jason Babinsky (Network), Gabby Beans (Marys Seacole), Ava Briglia ("John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch"), Carla Gugino ("Jett"), Julian Elijah Martinez (Network), Jo Mei (The Great Wave), Vince Nappo ("Reign"), Miriam Silverman (Junk), and Richard Topol (Indecent).

Anatomy of a Suicide is written by Alice Birch and directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

Three generations of women. Their lives play out simultaneously. For each, the chaos of what has come before brings a painful legacy. Winner of the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Anatomy of a Suicide is a revelatory exploration of mothers and daughters.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Alexis Soloski, The New York Times: The play's coolness means that you may not feel everything that a narrative like this might allow you to feel, at least not right away. Me? I was never even close to tears, though I heard sniffling from several sides. But "Anatomy of a Suicide" isn't the kind of show you can see then cavalierly head out for drinks, recycling your playbill along the way. It is a drama like the blue heart of a flame; it looks like winter even as it scorches you.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: It's all elegantly constructed and formally impressive, and we soon adjust to the idea of following the three sections that frequently comment on each other. Unfortunately, the complex structure more often than not serves to distance us from the intense emotional material. None of the characters or situations is presented with significant depth; instead, they mainly serve to advance the play's primary theme that suicidal ideation can be an inherited condition, which is hardly a novel concept. That several members of the ensemble play multiple characters, many of them barely delineated, only adds to the production's frustrations.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: For the audience, it's a hard-earned empathy. The three stories take place concurrently, with overlapping dialogue that finds the actors repeating the same words but in very different contexts. You may find yourself dropping out of one narrative to follow another more closely, and then deeply regretting having missed something crucial in your self-imposed detour. There are more than a few moments where you'll want to hit the rewind button. "Anatomy of a Suicide" is a play that makes you work to sort out the details and put them in place. Paying attention has its rewards.

Max McGuinness, Financial Times:Their stories unfold side-by-side for much of Lileana Blain-Cruz's 100-minute staging as the action cuts back and forth, often mid-sentence, across the decades. That fragmented structure becomes wearing at times and makes Anatomy of a Suicide hard to follow. But the play's disjointed rhythms also accentuate the sense of psychic turmoil. And by constantly scrambling the focus of our attention, Birch pushes us to empathise with the three women as they vainly struggle for stability while more than a dozen other characters come and go.

Adam Feldman, Time Out: Superbly portrayed by Giugino, Arias and Beans, the three main women manifest their illnesses differently: Carla and Bonnie are more interior-it makes the former seem glamorous to others, and the latter seem aloof-whereas Anna pours her pain out in torrents. But if they share an inability to connect with people (and especially to accept love), they are deeply bonded, for better or worse, to their mothers and daughters. Bonnie, describing her emotions after moving back to her family home, says it's "like being very far underground, like being where roots are"; Carla calls her daughter "a fish hook around my middle pulling me up when I want to be under." Birch's play takes an unsentimental but humane view of the suffering we may not always recognize in others. It hooks into you and lifts you up, like it or not.

Aleks Sierz, The Theatre Times: But although Birch vividly conveys the hyper-sensitivity of her characters, especially her women, and implies that we all find it difficult to understand exactly how others see us, this is not a flawless work. The Pinteresque repetition of some stretches of dialogue feels a bit wearisome, the lack of any explanation for mental distress is frustrating, and the thinness of the plotting can be annoying. The content of many of the conversations lacks ideas that are anything like as compelling as the experiences shown. Some anatomy! Also, the difficulty of writing in the triptych theatre form has sucked mush of the energy out of these exchanges: form triumphs over content. Moreover, there is something despairing in the suggestion that depression can only be cured by self-harm, that it is hereditary, and setting one strand in the future is pointless unless it illuminates the present. Sadly, Birch and Mitchell are better at representing darkness than at throwing light on their subject.

Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: Perhaps this is a conscious choice by Birch, whose script presents the multiple scenes in adjacent columns. Perhaps it's her effort to make her audience feel what it's like to be caught within an addled mind. (I think of Arthur Kopit's Wings, and Jan Maxwell's stunning portrayal in the Second Stage revival nearly a decade ago of a woman experiencing her own stroke.) But her characters aren't manic. They're sad, perhaps depressive, and sometimes drug-addled. They seem sure of what they want, even as the audience struggles to follow along. They're in pain, clearly, and in need of help. And that tripartite script, and Blain-Cruz's direction, keeps them all talking on top of each other. They're saying interesting things. If we could engage with their stories, we'd probably even be moved to care about them.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: There are moments when all the agony that Carol, Anna and Bonnie put themselves and others through feels oppressive, even a little gratuitous. In her hospital room after giving birth, Carol chants "a baby" to herself, over and over and over again-dozens of times-as other characters go on and on about something that's ostensibly related. Still, Birch has given us an affecting meditation on the demons we harbor and perhaps pass on, and on a particular and profound kind of love that is too seldom explored, even in our proudly gyno-centric era.

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