A creature features in Aurora’s stunning Metamorphosis

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HOUSE OF BUGGIN: Alexander Crowther (foreground) is Gregor Samsa, a humand-turned-creature, in the Aurora Theatre Company production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Gregor’s family (rear, from left), Grete (Megan Troute), Mother (Madeline H.D. Brown) and Father (Allen McKelvey), is horrified by the transformation. Below: Patrick Jones (back to camera) is a new lodger in the Samsa household, and he does not appreciate fine dancing…or monster brothers. Photos by David Allen


You’ve heard that old trope about intense pressure turning a lump of coal into a diamond. Well what if that kind of pressure is applied to a human being? In Franz Kafka’s opinion, the pressure of modern society will turn a person into, well, something horrific. Perhaps a cockroach or some other loathsome vermin, but a monster nonetheless. It’s a sad and scary vision, one that is realized to its fullest potential in the Aurora Theatre Company production of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Director Mark Jackson is something of a name brand in the Bay Area. You know his shows are going to be original, compelling and rigorously produced. He’s a writer/director (occasionally actor) whose work you simply do not miss. The world of Kafka would seem to be a playground for Jackson’s mighty theatrical imagination, and it’s true. Jackson’s Metamorphosis is as unsettling as it is poignant, as beautifully performed as it is fun to watch.

Using an adaptation by David Farr and Gísli Örn Gardarsson, Jackson creates a 20th-century monster mash with existential underpinnings. He sets the action in a stereotypical 1950s household – perfectly appointed furniture supporting perfectly appointed people. Dad’s in his cardigan and rules the household with an iron fist. Mom’s in her best Donna Reed dress with matching apron. Daughter Grete is bright, blond and braided. All is well in this tightly wound, hard-smiling house until one particular morning.

Older brother Gregor has not come down from his room and is clearly late for work – a real no-no because he’s the household breadwinner ever since dad’s business went belly up. What’s up with Gregor? Perhaps he’s under the weather, or, under the pressure of supporting his family with a traveling salesman job that’s killing him, he has turned overnight into something horrific and insect-like.

Yes indeed, Gregor is not himself. He’s literally crawling the walls of his bedroom. When he speaks, we can understand him (and empathize with him completely), but no one else can. All they hear is an unsettling screech. So much for the ideal family in the ideal house in the ideal world.

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Jackson’s cast is so sharp, so precise and so electrifying that the show’s 90 minutes just fly by. Alexander Crowther is Gregor, and he’s just astounding as he makes like Spider-man (though without injury or incident, at least on opening night) on the walls of his bedroom and the frame of his bed. It’s an intensely physical performance to be sure, but the real marvel of it is how Crowther (entering his third year in ACT’s MFA program) makes Gregor so compassionate and so deeply pained. He crawls around the extraordinary set by Nina Ball, which renders the upper half of the set as Gregor’s nightmarish world, all vertiginous and askew, with sturdy walls just right for climbing.

Even though we see Gregor behaving like a giant bug, the real horror of his situation is registered in the faces and bodies of his family. Dad (Allen McKelvey) is the most horrified – his shame at making his son carry the weight of the family probably has something to do with that. Mom (Madeline H.D. Brown) can hardly stifle a scream each time she sees her transformed son. She faints and she turns away, painting a rigid smile on her face that turns her, ironically, into something of a monster as well.

Grete (the extraordinary Megan Trout) is the only family member with enough courage beneath her compassion to interact with Gregor.

Keeping up appearances is a given for the Samsas, and this latest twist only makes that effort more challenging, especially when visited by Gregor’s demanding boss and a potential lodger now that the family income has gone the way of the insect. Both of these visitors from the outside are played by Patrick Jones, a pitch perfect character actor. His Mr. Fischer, the boarder, is especially hilarious given the pretentious oaf’s posturing about how much he detests pretension.

This is ultimately quite a sad tale (and no matter how American they try to make it, this still feels German), but Jackson and his crew deliver it with such energy and such discipline that it’s also suffused with the joy of performing something so bold and juicy. Transform yourself into an audience member and experience this Metamorphosis.


Metamorphosis continues through July 17 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$45. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.

The Companion Piece or “I glove you whore”

The Companion Piece

Jake Rodriguez shows off his vaudevillian chops in The Companion Piece, a world premiere at Z Space @ Theatre Artaud. Below: Christopher Kuckenbaker and Beth Wilmurt are two of a kind, a pair of fools. Photos by Pak Han.


You could throw a lot of adjectives at The Companion Piece, a world-premiere creation by director Mark Jackson, actor Beth Wilmurt and their crew: wily, zany, exciting, perplexing, silly and utterly beautiful. You could throw a lot of words, but they don’t quite create the picture of just what the Companion experience is.

To begin with, this Encore Theatre Company/Z Space world premiere is all about entertainment – the old-fashioned, shtick-’em-up vaudeville kind of entertainment. Pratfalls, hoary jokes and razzmatazz. The 80-minute show is bookended by a pasty-faced vaudevillian with spit curls and routine that sputters like a rickety but reliable old car. He does magic. He sings. He says things like, “Do you have a mirror in your pocket? I can see myself in your pants.” And then he’s done and trundles up to his dressing room alone.

Then we get two modern-day performers trying to work in the vaudevillian tradition, but first they have to converse with the audience and get some feedback before they launch into the serious business of creating their comedy act.

And then the penny drops. This isn’t about entertainment at all (as entertaining as it is). It’s about relationships. You can go it alone like Jake Rodriguez as the ye olde time vaudevillian and turn into a misanthropic robot who sings barbed songs with lines like, “I’ve never needed someone less than I’ve never needed you.”

Or you could go through the world with a companion – someone to upstage you, mess with your props, critique your dramatic monologues and dance the dance of compromise.

The Companion Piece

That’s quite a choice. As director Jackson puts it in his program note, it’s the Hell of Other People vs. the Hell of Isolation. The Companion Piece doesn’t exactly make a case for either, though it seems that Wilmurt and Christopher Kuckenbaker are having a lot more fun. They fight and they duel with egos instead of sabers. But they also dance an exquisite pas de deux with giant rolling staircases. And they put on a charming puppet show with only their feet visible.

The genesis of this show apparently came from the book A General Theory of Love by a trio of San Francisco psychiatrists who ponder the scientific need for human companionship — a notion that we actually need to be around other human beings to survive. The concept for the show is Wilmurt’s, but the piece was developed without a script as Jackson, his actors and designers all found their way into the world of solos, duos and the dances they dance.

The result is astonishingly coherent, with moments of genuine comedy – as when Kuckenbaker mishears a cue and says “I glove you whore” – and real lyrical beauty as when Wilmurt, on a swing hovering over the audience, cracks the psyche of performers in a simple, eloquent, heartbreaking way. There are a couple drowsy moments here and there, but mostly the giant Theatre Artaud space is filled with a spirit of adventures in entertainment that actually means something.

Nina Ball’s set is filled with surprises, as are her wonderfully comic costumes (the striped union suit is especially fetching). The big, open space of the stage gives a show about intimacy (or avoiding it) an epic feel. We also get moments of theatrical flair, as when Wilmurt and Kuckenbaker create their own miniature proscenium stage for a magic act that turns into a battle of wills (I’m the magician and you’re the assistant. No, I’m the magician and YOU’RE the assistant). Gabe Maxon’s lighting design go a long way toward giving shape and theatrical flair to such a large performance space.

Rodriguez gives a startling performance in his brief but memorable time on stage, but his real magic is in the sound design, which features ’30s jazz, a scratchy recording of “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and all kinds of riffs on traditional rim shots and fanfares. There’s also live music – Wilmurt does some singing, which is always a good thing. The song “If I Loved You” features prominently, as it should.

The Companion Piece, directed with Jackson’s signature precision and inventiveness, is a disarmingly delightful show to watch, but it’s even more interesting to think about afterward. Now how often can you say that about something this entertaining? Go with someone you love. Or go alone.


The Companion Piece continues through Feb. 13 at Z Space @ Theatre Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$40. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.zspace.org.

Beth Wilmurt goes `Boating’ in Berkeley

You’ve heard about monsters being unleashed and wreaking havoc in New York? Well, Beth Wilmurt was just such a monster.

The San Francisco-based actor played a ferocious dragon in the final scenes of Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, the Shotgun Players/Banana Bag & Bodice musical that headed to New York after its award-winning birth in Berkeley.

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Wilmurt replaced Cameron Galloway, who plays a starchy academic for most of the play then, at the end, turns into a dragon for one final battle scene with the warrior Beowulf. This was Wilmurt’s first New York performance experience, and she describes it as “a super-positive experience.”

“It felt like the best possible circumstances to be in New York,” she says. “I was there for about five weeks with one thing to concentrate on, this wonderful artistic experience. I had my days free during the run of the show, and during rehearsal I could go out at night and see shows. I saw a ton of theater and ran into a lot of people missing the Bay Area.”

Once she got home, Wilmurt didn’t have much time to dawdle before she was back in the rehearsal room, this time for the Bay Area premiere of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating, a four-person romantic comedy that begins performances this week at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company. The play, directed by Joy Carlin, is about two couples, one more established, played by Amanda Duarte and Gabriel Marin, and one just forming, played by Wilmurt and Danny Wolohan.

The 2007 play was originally part of the LAByrinth Theater Company season starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will direct the upcoming film version.

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Wilmurt describes her character, Connie, as somewhat troubled. “I think she might even have some sort of diagnosed problem, though it’s never specified,” she says. “She’s dealing with issues, and Danny’s character, Jack, clearly has some, too. Here are two people in their late 30s/early 40s, and they’re facing a long-term relationship for the first time. Why hasn’t that happened thus far? There isn’t a lot of plot in the play, but there are obstacles. The obstacles are simple seeming, but they represent bigger obstacles for the individual.”

The role of Connie is somewhat similar to a role Wilmurt played in a previous Aurora outing, John Guare’s Bosoms and Neglect (seen above, with Wilmurt and Cassidy Brown), which Carlin also directed.

“Joy is an amazing actor, right? So it’s no surprise that she’s a really good director when it comes to getting inside a moment,” Wilmurt says. “She senses when a moment isn’t fully embodied and senses what the rhythm should be. She can get inside these micro-moments and help figure out the timing and depth of them. She can speak from the outside in, and she’s a great comedic actress.”

Wilmurt is no slouch herself. The Bay Area native grew up in Dublin (in the Tri-Valley area, not Ireland) and began her performing career at the Willows Theatre in Concord and has worked consistently since doing musicals, musical revues, plays and productions of her own creation.

With her partner, Mark Jackson, she founded Art Street Theatre in 1995, which produced a show a year for about 10 years. Ask Wilmurt about her favorite theatrical memories –her time in Germany studying, creating and performing in theater and dance gets a shout out, but Art Street is at the top of the list.

“I have a ridiculous amount of great memories from Art Street,” she says. “We worked with a lot of the same people, and everyone had such amazing energy and enthusiasm. I certainly loved doing Io, Princess of Argos. I had an idea and started talking to Mark about combining Greek mythology and cabaret. We got Marcy Karr involved and just started writing it. We wrote the show and 15 songs in about four months. We didn’t preview it or workshop it. We just did it, whatever, flaws and all. Art Street was like our own little school because we were just moving forward and not worrying how things were received.”

Though completely immersed in Jack Goes Boating (and anticipating her next Shotgun show, Marcus Gardley and Molly Holm’s a cappella musical This World in a Woman’s Hands in the fall), Wilmurt is feeling that old Art Street itch to create new works.

“I’m really attracted to brand-new work,” she says. “I like the problem-solving aspect, the figuring out how it’s all going to work. I’ve worked with so many great companies and choreographers and directors, and I like all kinds of performance—musicals, plays, fringe, cabaret, dance – and I’m getting these ideas for plays. Should I be in them? Should I pitch them? Direct them? It’s that Art Street energy: gotta create a show!”


Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating performs June 12-July 19 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $28-$42. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.

Theater review: `Faust, Part 1’

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Mark Jackson (left) is Faust and Peter Ruocco is Mephistopheles in Jackson’s adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, Part 1, a Shotgun Players production at the Ashby Stage. Photos by Jessica Palopoli

Will Faust ever learn? Deal with the devil and you’re gonna get burned

The devil’s curse, it turns out, is a deep understanding of human nature.

In Mark Jackson’s dazzling Faust, Part 1, a Shotgun Players production now at the Ashby Stage, all magical Mr. Mephistopheles has to do is recognize the vanity, ego, intellectual curiosity and burning desire in a person, give them permission to be fully human, then sit back and watch the destruction begin.

Jackson’s free adaptation of the Goethe play clocks in at just under two hours (with no intermission), and, happily, it’s a challenge. This is a disciplined, intentional piece of theater awash in rigorous direction (by Jackson and Kevin Clarke), a simple but aesthetically astute production and a script that crackles with poetry, comedy and terror.

The first 45 minutes of the show take place in front of a prison-like gate. Faust (Jackson), a genius shut up in the hallowed halls of learning, longs to divorce himself from scholarship and dusty books and fawning students. Having worked with his benevolent father to cure the plague, Faust is now revered and, consequently, bored out of his impressive mind.

“Night after night I shot dreams up my sleeves and found they were just poppies,” Faust says. He’s so bored he’s challenging God’s existence and questioning man’s need to yield to God.

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His disdain for his co-workers (represented by Phil Lowery) and his students (Dara Yazdani) leads him to action and, ultimately, to keep company with the devil.

Peter Ruocco as Mephistopheles is the very picture of calm. There’s no devilish leering, no sinister cackling – there’s not even any red clothing (costumer Clarke gives him a simple, dark blue smock with side pockets, where this smooth devil casually rests his hands). It’s fun to watch Mephistopheles continually puncture Faust’s intellectual pomposity and urge him into a slave-trading deal on the soul level.

It doesn’t take much for Faust to agree, and when the giant gates of Nina Ball’s set slide open, the stage reveals an idyllic birch grove (beautifully lit by Joan Arhelger) just outside a small village.

Flush with the sensory joys of being among flesh-and-blood people (as opposed to academics), Faust immediately falls for a beautiful young woman named Gretchen (Blythe Foster, above with Ruocco) and implores the devil to help him woo her.

The young woman successfully wooed, Faust pledges his eternal love and then wants to move on to other pleasures. But the devil won’t allow that. Faust has toyed with this innocent woman’s affections and must do the responsible thing and stay with her.

That, of course, leads to no good. Faust’s sense of responsibility cannot keep pace with his desires, and he leaves behind him a wake of destruction involving Gretchen, her wheelchair-bound mother (Zehra Berkman) and her soldier brother (Yazdani).

The blood and violence reach an operatic pitch (the sound design, which includes what sounds like Lou Reed singing “This Magic Moment,” is by Matt Stines), and Part 1 leaves us wondering if Faust – indeed any of us – can ever fully learn from the self-involved, soul-killing mistakes we make over and over. The answer seems to be: sorry, nope, not even close.

The play’s best scene – and the play is full of sharply etched, verbally dexterous scenes – begins as a tender scene between Faust and Gretchen. In their embrace, she looks up at him and asks, “Do you believe in God?” Such a simple question from a truly pious person. Faust delivers an academically impressive answer, dodging the question and answering it at the same time – affirming his cleverness, skirting his non-belief and disguising it so as not to upset his main squeeze. But she won’t have it. She asks again. And again. And again. Each time, he delivers the same essay-like answer, but with increasing anger and despair.

Jackson’s performance is virtuoso, but Foster is right there with him, her expressive, pained face pulling powerful emotion through the verbiage.

Ruocco’s challenge as the devil is to be restrained and powerful at the same time, and he manages this feat with aplomb. He’s charismatic with a deep well of seen-it-all-before sadness. This devil seems to derive no pleasure in watching humankind bedevil itself.

Last time we had an original spin on the Faust legend was about five years ago when the Magic Theatre presented David Mamet directing his own Doctor Faustus. Give me the loose ends and muscular poetry of Jackson any day over Mamet’s dull posturing. Jackson’s devil is the real deal.



The Shotgun Players’ Faust, Part 1 continues through June 28 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $18-$25. Call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org for information.



Director/playwright/actor Mark Jackson is an alum of San Francisco State’s Theatre Arts program, and he continues to work there as a guest artist. For his latest foray with Shotgun Players (after The Death of Meyerhold, The Forest War and Macbeth), Jackson brings with him and impressive cast and crew with SFSU ties: Professor Joan Arhelger is the production’s lighting designer and alum Nina Ball is the set designer. Current students involved in Faust, Part 1 are Dara Yazdani (actor), Matt Stines (sound designer), Michelle Smith (stage manager), Ashley Costa (sound board operator/assistant stage manager) and Krista Smith (lighting assistant). For more about the Department of Theatre Arts visit http://theatre.sfsu.edu/.



Theater review: `Miss Julie’



Mark Anderson Phillips is Jean the footman and Lauren Grace is Miss Julie, the title character in Mark Jackson’s production of the Strindberg classic at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company. Photos by David Allen

Sex, class, intensity heat up Aurora’s `Miss Julie’
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She looks at him dramatically and says, “Where did you learn to talk like that? You must have been to the theater.”

Oh, he’s been to the theater all right. He’s been to a lot of places and plans on going to many more.

She is Miss Julie, the title character in August Strindberg’s 1888 drama now on stage at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company under the astute direction of Mark Jackson, one of the Bay Area’s most original and exciting directors.

Played by Lauren Grace, Miss Julie is all the things Strindberg is aiming for: a contrast in high-born class and low-end raunch, a bold man hater and a sexual provocateur. Grace is fierce and flinching, beautiful and crass.

The man in question is Jean, footman to the Count, Julie’s father. Jean is a self-made man with finely honed skills. As played by the ever-reliable Mark Anderson Phillips, he is masterfully subservient with an eye to greater things. In planning his escape, possibly with Miss Julie’s help, he envisions himself becoming a hotelier who, one day, will be able to buy himself the title of Count.

Strindberg’s Miss Julie is really quite a simple set-up: two passionate people play games – carnal, psychological, fatal — during Midsummer’s Eve festivities. Within that simplicity comes all the delicious complexity of class, economics, sexuality, ambition and power.


Using a vital adaptation of the play by Helen Cooper (originally created for England’s Greenwich Theatre and then turned into the screenplay for Mike Figgis’ 1999 film version of Miss Julie), Jackson’s production takes advantage of the heat generated by Phillips and Grace to sustain some prolonged, sexually loaded silences.

The adaptation, running as a 90-minute one-act, expedites the ending, upping the drama and bringing on stage what Strindberg took off stage. Cooper heightens Strindberg’s extremes. Warning Miss Julie, Jean says, like a low-grade lothario, “It’s dangerous to play with fire.” To which, Julie answers like a soubrette, “Not for me. I’m insured.”

But when the tone shifts to uglier recriminations, Jean makes no bones about their roles as he pours himself a drink: “A servant is a servant, and a whore is a whore. Skol!”

Jackson brings some cinematic flourishes to this intimate chamber production. Composer/sound designer David A. Graves offers a movie-like underscore – folksy jigs when we’re reminded of the celebrations happening outside on the estate’s grounds, intensely romantic and cello dominated when Jean and Julie inch closer to the consummation of their heavy-duty flirtation. And lighting designer Heather Basarab lets colors wash over scenes like tints to photographs – orange for passion and reproach, purple for dancing and romance, blue for casting portentous shadows.

Giulio Cesare Perrone’s kitchen set features a big back wall that catches Basarab’s lights beautifully. There’s also a dangling bunch of tree boughs in the center of the room that casts gorgeous shadows of a verdant summer.

The set is dominated by a long center table that serves as a sort of gauge indicating just how off-kilter the play intends to go. When the table divides the kitchen in half, as it is supposed to do, all is well. When Jean and Julie begin to tussle, the table is pushed askew. After their misguided night of passion, the table is all but upturned.

When Jean’s lover, the pragmatic kitchen maid Christine (efficiently executed by Beth Deitchman), makes known her disapproval of the night’s activities, she straightens that table with righteous fervor.

Jackson’s production is full of potent moments strongly punctuated and expertly staged. The kissing of a shoe becomes an erotic dance. The pushing of a chair or the slamming of a beer bottle become well-placed exclamation points.

While Grace reflects the confusion/confidence of a young woman who knows a lot less about the world than she thinks, Phillips seizes the stage with Jean’s cleverness, his loathing of the upper crust that employs him and his overwhelming desire to be part of that privileged world. When Phillips unleashes Jean’s rage, the small Aurora stage is barely enough to contain him.

Miss Julie is a play that wants to fly in the face of convention, and director Jackson delivers a heat-seeking production that is anything but conventional.


Aurora Theatre Company’s Miss Julie continues through May 17 at 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $40-$42. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.

Review: “American $uicide”

(opened Feb. 12, 2007)
Jackson, actors commit American $uicide at Thick House
three stars Zesty satire

If “American Idol” ended each episode with a bullet instead of wild applause, some of us might stop watching. And some of us might start.

We love our reality TV in this country, and, truth be told, we love our violence. So far, the two haven’t collided much (discounting “Fear Factor” if only because “Fear Factor” should always be discounted).

That’s where director/writer Mark Jackson comes in. He’s still on a hot streak that began last fall with his Salome at the Aurora Theatre Company and continued through The Forest War with Shotgun Players.

With American $uicide, now at the Thick House in San Francisco, Jackson gives us something completely different: an ultra-contemporary twist on a banned Russian play.

While researching his brilliant The Death of Meyerhold, Jackson came across Nikolai Erdman, a writer whose second play was the biting comedy The Suicide. Finished in 1928, the play was a hot property, with multiple theater companies competing to produce it. But the Soviet government banned it for its supposed anti-government content. Stalin himself called the play “empty and even harmful.” Erdman was reportedly exiled to Siberia several years later and never wrote another play.

With the support of Encore Theatre Company and Z Plays, Jackson picks up where Erdman left off and gives us a wickedly funny, wonderfully warped mish-mash of human desperation, celebrity lust and good old American zeal.

As a writer, Jackson sets his action in the present day, but he’s clearly working in a 1930s stage comedy style with rapid-fire, exaggerated delivery and over-the-top characters. As a director, he takes that style to the next logical step: ’40s-style screwball comedy complete with pratfalls, broken dishes and zany costumes (by Raquel Barreto).

At the center of the story is a sincere sad sack named Sam Small (the incredibly funny Jud Williford, pictured above). He’s unemployed and ashamed that he has to rely on his waitress wife’s “greasy tips” and stolen sausages to survive.

His hardworking wife, Mary (Beth Wilmurt, a comedienne of the highest order), wants to help her husband out of his depression, so when he finally admits his secret desire to be an actor, she does her darndest to be a good cheerleader.

With the help of his across-the-hall neighbor, Albert (Marty Pistone), and his girlfriend Margaret (Denise Balthrop Cassidy), who make money on eBay and with their very own porn site, Sam makes his tentative way into show business.

This is when the personalities start to leap off the stage. We get a desperate, overly tan film director (Michael Patrick Gaffney) and a 22-year-old starlet (Jody Flader) _ the next big thing who’s also making a comeback. But best of all, we get Gigi Bolt, a former director at the National Endowment for the Arts and the current executive director of the Theatre Communications Group.

Bolt is a real person, but her presence here — in the divine form of Delia MacDougall, left, at her most Carol Burnett-ish — is sort of an inside joke. What’s funny for anyone who knows Bolt or not is the character’s grand dame theatricality. “Life is projected, transmitted and downloaded but no longer LIVED!” she intones.

Once Sam meets all these characters, he gets bamboozled into an outrageous scheme that has him committing suicide on live TV, with viewers bidding astounding sums to have him die in their name or in the name of their cause.

Sam agrees to do this because it will ensure his wife won’t have to work anymore. Gigi wants him to die in the name of American theater. The starlet wants him to die out of love for her in the hope that the attention might revive her career. And so on.

Going into intermission, which occurs just after MacDougall’s big scene, I was thinking “American $uicide” was just about the funniest thing I’d seen since Hunter Gatherers last summer.

But Act 2 disappoints if only because the build-up to the actual suicide — which takes place in a high N-R-G dance club (sturdy, flexible set by James Faerron) — results in an almost inevitable anti-climax. By this point we have Middle Eastern operatives and government baddies in the mix (all ably played by Liam Vincent), but Jackson’s sharpness dulls.

The play is so frenzied and fun that I wanted all the darker currents to amount to more. I had hoped that while we were having a great time watching the show, Jackson’s satirical saber was slicing into us more than we realized.

That doesn’t quite happen, but American $uicide, in all its grandly theatrical glory, remains a comedy to die for.

For information about American $uicide, visit www.zspace.org.