Men don’t ask for help during crisis—that’s what the employees at the titular suicide-note editing and consultation firm believe. Chicago playwright Hinderaker’s sarcastic premise (which surely will irk some, depending on their own feelings about self-harm) is that a saboteur joins such a firm with the intent of keeping its clients alive, though he himself is slipping into an emotional tailspin. But that’s just the premise; the story is a gut-punchingly honest examination of how men join together to brave a world in which they cannot stand alone.
It’s a tricky setup, yet the Gift shows its usual canny casting abilities. Rollins, as sensitive double-agent Jason, navigates desolation with brutal intelligence and empathy for everyone but himself. But it should come as no surprise that the heart of the play is in Thornton’s hands. As Jason’s first and possibly last client, the astute actor barrels past any satirical inclinations the script may have and finds a heartbreaking honesty in a man who has truly, permanently ruined things for himself.
While director Berry handles the minefield terrain with a steady hand, the visuals are a bit cramped. Dan Stratton’s utilitarian set of blinds, tables and rolling chairs hasn’t helped the sight lines in the Gift’s tiny space. The staging needs a bit of air—but perhaps that’s the point. Hinderaker’s world is one in which everyone must relearn how to breathe.