Offal Endings by John Klemeyer, produced by Side of The Road theater company, and directed by Beth Kelley, is a play set in the near future that aims at the greed and manipulations of healthcare by corporate and political America. It is about the amorality in sectors of the economy that purport to provide suicide prevention to people in emotional distress. In reality, this public service is being done for the shareholders of the companies involved in a human body parts market. The company is Welcome Home, and it is in their corporate interest to encourage people to commit assisted suicide under their staff’s watchful eye so they can “harvest” the valuable body parts.
Offal Endings is billed as “a dark comedy” but it is more of a drama with some comedic elements. It grapples with complicated subjects and is not always successful. It “reads” better than it plays, which is not to say that it is a bad play, just that it needs more structure in its story development and execution. The topics it touches on are important given the increased commercialization in the delivery of medical care and, more importantly, psychological care in the complex socio-political environment of the present and near future economy. It presents challenging ideas but doesn’t clarify the challenges those ideas represent.
The play centers on Joshua (Jon McCormick), a young man upset over the collapse of his relationship with his girlfriend Cheryl (Lydia Kelley). He makes several calls to Welcome Home, a company that provides suicide prevention services, that he does not complete. He meets up with Cheryl at a Starbucks to discuss the ending of their relationship. He is trying to figure out what went wrong and how the relationship can be fixed.
Cheryl puts finality on the repair idea by telling him she has been seeing another man for at least two months and that she is pregnant. She tells Joshua that he is not the father. Joshua is crushed and is now serious about suicide. He follows through with his calls to Welcome Home and speaks with a counselor named Angelica (Celia Schaefer).
Joshua meets with Angelica at Welcome Home. It becomes clear that the motive for the company’s effort to have people go through assisted suicide is the harvesting of valuable body parts. They will harvest the body parts as the client is dying. When Angelica leaves Josh to think about the contract he has just signed, a young woman, Mary (Ali Hoffmann), comes into the room. She and Joshua start a conversation that results in Joshua giving her his phone number and asking her to call him.
She calls him, but he is determined to go through with the suicide and harvesting. During the procedure, he wakes up, fights his way out of the operating room, and leaves, losing a kidney in the process. He calls Mary to tell her what happened and that he does not plan to go back. He convinces her to change her mind, and the two plan to expose Welcome Home’s deception.
We learn things about Angelica as she is criticized by her Manager (Georgia Buchanan) because of the harvesting operation’s failure and the company’s unwelcome exposure by Joshua and Mary on CNN. A surprise appearance by Cheryl at the end of the play provides an interesting ending.
There are moments when the characters are overacted, and the presentation is uneven. In the case of Angelica, the internal conflict with who she is outside of work and who she is at work is not revealed until late in the play. Shaefer does a good job showing Angelica’s conflict with the roles she is playing in her life, but it is too late for the audience to sympathize with her situation. It might be more effective if this emotional ambiguity of the character was better developed during the play to delineate the conflict being felt by the character over her role in the amoral enterprise.
Hoffmann and McCormick make their characters mostly believable. In some scenes, the characters seem emotionally stable with an upbeat attitude. They do not behave in ways one would expect from someone considering suicide. This is somewhat true to life. The idea that a person’s overt behavior reveals inner turmoil is not always accurate. There are many instances when the clues to a person’s slide into suicidal depression are effectively masked. While Hoffmann and McCormick show the masking of depression, there is no clear path to understanding that this is what is going on. This important idea is not clear in the context of the play.
Designer Abott Finkel does fine work with a very minimal set. His lighting design is effective in support of the play. Chiara Marone has a more difficult job with sound design since the script calls for specific musical pieces to underscore some of the ideas being presented. Her technical presentation of that music is well-done, although the selections called for in the script are problematic.
Offal Endings (through January 29, 2023)
Side of the Road
The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call (212) 714-2442 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission