M. McDevitt reviews Suicidal Life Coach
“It’s life coach Fred Sigman’s wedding day. His fiancée is histrionic, mercurial, and already planning their annulment! No wonder he’s depressed!”
Kenneth Rich’s Suicidal Life Coach, which recently concluded a short run as part of this year’s Summerfest at the Hudson Guild Theatre, is a perfect example of the both the advantages and disadvantages of premiering a new work in its earliest stages as part of a festival.
On the plus side, a playwright gets to see their work on its feet and be able to judge what is working and what is not. In the case of Rich’s “serious comedy,” there is more working than not. First, the predicament in which the main character, Fred Sigman, finds himself is genuinely compelling, fraught with both tension and comedic possibility. Secondly, those comedic possibilities – while not always as fully developed as they might be – are genuinely funny. And third, Fred Sigman himself is a genuinely genuine character; one feels for him throughout the proceedings and wants him to overcome all of the (many) obstacles thrown in his path to happiness.
The work as is, however, is too short for its own good; at 1 hour, 10 minutes, it felt a little rushed as it raced from point to point. In addition, there seemed to be some missing information, particularly in the backstory of Fred’s potential mother-in-law; late in the proceedings the character has a total meltdown, which could have been much funnier than it was if she’d been filled out a bit more than she was. In addition, a key question raised early in the play remains unresolved, leaving the audience scratching their heads; Fred and his awful fiancé Bella may know what happened, but the audience does not. It’s emotionally unsatisfying, especially since Bella, as written (and played) is such a horrible shrew, and pulls focus from Fred’s happy(ish) ending,.
Director Joe Langworth did a terrific job keeping everything moving at breakneck speed and found the humor in even the darkest corners of the script. If he was less successful in his casting, chalk that up to the vagaries of festival production and availability of top talent in NYC during the summer: It’s a crapshoot. Suffice to say, Michael O’Connor, as Fred, was the glue that held the production together: charming, affable, vulnerable and funny, he drove the show very nicely indeed. Generally fine work was also turned in by Aneika Ferman as Fred’s no-nonsense ex-girlfriend, Jennifer, and by Analise Rios in the very small role of Lynn, one of Fred’s clients; one wanted more of her feisty charm.
With a bit of revising, adding a few layers here and there, and bringing it to a more conducive running time (90 minutes, perhaps?) Suicidal Life Coach, like its provocatively funny title, has the potential to be a very provocatively funny comedy. The bones are there; they just need fleshing out.
Believing that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine, this play employs over-the-top humor to address the serious realities of depression while offering strategies to help loosen the grips of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness.”