I’m still trying to tap into the brain of playwright Alice Birch to understand what she is trying to do with her play, “Anatomy of a Suicide,” an Atlantic Theater Company presentation. She gives us troubled women representing three generations who are on display with various symptoms but without sufficient depth to make us understand what causes the obvious problems. Considering the hour and 45 minutes running time, what we observe is mainly surface and consistently grim.
The basic set by Mariana Sanchez is a huge space that suggests a vast hospital area, where we watch confrontations and actions. Characters in various areas often talk simultaneously, and occasionally in sync with the same words. These are competitive grabs for our attention, which create confusion, compounded by cast members playing multiple parts. What’s more, three different generations are expressed on stage at the same time, represented by a mother, her daughter and her daughter.
The title is misleading, as there are two suicides, one woman reportedly run over by a train, the other woman electrocuting herself in a bathtub. Perhaps Birch is trying to show suicidal unity via a tendency that runs in the family.
We start with meeting Carol (Carla Gugino), who has slit her wrists but insists to her upset husband John (Richard Topol) that it was an accident. As we follow Carol’s trajectory, we see her pregnant and later terrified that when her baby is taken to be weighed she will not get the infant back.
Anna (Celeste Arias), presumably Carol’s grown daughter, is also a psychological mess unable to come to terms with herself and spewing a long monologue at the audience expressing the inner turmoil. Later we see her getting electroshock treatments.
Bonnie (Gabb Beans) is the next generation. She is a doctor and an impressionable patient played intriguingly by Jo Mei becomes infatuated with her and tries to establish a relationship.
This all poses quite a job for director Lileana Blain-Cruz to pull everything together, but she has good cast members with whom to work and they plunge into the odd story with skill. Others in the cast include Jason Babinsky, Ava Briglia, Julian Elijah Martinez, Vince Nappo and Miriam Silverman. Jiyoun Chang provides crucial lighting effects.
Seeing “Anatomy of a Suicide” is a demanding but not very rewarding experience. Viewers can spend much mental energy trying to figure out everything that is going on and why. At the Atlantic Theater Company, Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone 866-811-4111. Reviewed March 5, 2020.