The Suicide

Based on a script by Nikolai Erdman. Directed by Sherry J Yoon. Produced by Boca del Lupo in partnership with San Banquito Teatro.

At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre until March 6

It's boring, which is a drag because it promises to be so exciting.

The Suicide opens with one of the most breathtaking images in recent theatrical memory. A character, who we'll find out later is called Semyon, winches a fridge high into the air, sets a hot iron on the rope that's holding it there, then lies under the appliance, waiting for it to crush him. This combination of elaborate setup and what feels like real danger had me laughing and sweating at the same time. Some of the other visuals in The Suicide are pretty spectacular, too. But, as so often happens with Boca del Lupo, the company fails to consistently mine a vein of emotion that would give its images meaning and artistic coherence. Largely because they're not stitched into compelling stories, even rich concepts like the death-by-Westinghouse opening shrink and become a series of isolated ideas.

In this production, Vancouver's Boca del Lupo and Mexico's San Banquito Teatro work together to explore a script written by Soviet playwright Nikolai Erdman in 1930. When Semyon's mother-in-law sees him taking a bite of sausage, she thinks the unemployed guy is sticking a pistol in his mouth. Soon, people from all over the city are inundating him with their requests, demanding that he kill himself for their causes--for the beleaguered intelligentsia, for the lovelorn, and so on.

If you think about the play's original Stalinist context, the work is clearly a defence of the emotional rights of the individual, but this production is far too alienating to invite serious contemplation. Partly, that's because the players speak an awkward combination of Spanish and English. Director Sherry J Yoon and her company don't effectively explore this linguistic duality, so instead of becoming thematically resonant, it remains an impediment. Erdman's original story isn't very interesting, and this ensemble fails to effectively reinvent it; this adaptation relies too much on text and too little on sensuality.

Many scenes feel stitched together: a lot of language, a bit of abstract movement, different levels of extremity in the acting. But twice, toward the end, the production comes together for whole scenes. In Semyon's final banquet, the projection of a scratched but blank film, piano music, and the characters' black-and-white costumes artfully evoke a poetic, silent-movie sensibility. The following passage, which parodies the consumption of funeral products and services, achieves its own slick style.

The actors are all working hard, but the basic problem remains: Boca del Lupo's sensibility, which dominates this production through director Yoon, is so cerebral that there's almost no room for heart.