Ahron Foster
Jason Clark
January 08, 2015 AT 05:00 AM EST

The playbill for British playwright Moira Buffini’s Dying For It—now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company in NYC—indicates that this is a ‘free adaptation’ of Soviet playwright Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide. That fact is plainly evident once you start to hear the occasional F-bombs fly, and for a while, Buffini’s take on the colorful denizens of a ramshackle boarding house—who rally around suicidal, unemployed, headed-for-martyrdom figurehead Semyon Semyonovich (Joey Slotnick)—is filled with the promise of making the political quite personal, and how the societally disenfranchised simply wish to stand up and be counted. (Reportedly, Stalin was not a fan of Erdman’s original.)

But despite some deft entwining of highbrow satire and lowbrow indulgence (one character remarks that they are committing a Peeping Tom act ”with a Marxist point of view”), director Neil Pepe’s production seems to recede as you’re watching it, much like the wallpaper peeling off of Walt Spangler’s nicely chafed multi-leveled set. There is some top-drawer comic talent working at the level the work requires (my favorites were The Good Wife‘s Mary Beth Peil as Semyon’s meddling mother-in-law and Mia Barron’s amusingly Andrea Martin-esque town tramp), but Slotnick is far too lightweight in the leading role to make much of a comic imprint, and despite a cast of 12 bustling about (including an accompanying violinist and accordion player), the production doesn’t feel completely filled-in. Comedies—especially one as ripe with dark possibilities as this one—should not be playing Russian roulette with your funny bone as Dying For It too often does. C+

Tickets: atlantictheater.org

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