Theatre Preview: The Natural Causes of Comedy

By Katherine Fletcher

Suicide is a touchy subject. There’s an exhaustive list of reasons why someone would choose to take their own life, reasons often too unbearable to mention. The grief over losing someone who died by their own hands lingers–¬≠the stigma attached to suicide can haunt the friends and family of the deceased. Very few people wish to confront the matter of suicide, so when it becomes the subject of an art form, or at least part of it, people can get apprehensive.

“There’s been a bit of opposition to this [play],” says co-director and actor Alan LeBoeuf of Natural Causes, the latest production from Workshop Theatre. “Somebody said, ‘You can’t do a show about suicide,’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ and of course I got my way on that.”

Natural Causes, a black comedy, is the story of Vincent, a lower-class Cockney man who works for a company called Exodus as a professional suicide merchant. He turns up at the Bryce mansion and assumes Walter Bryce has contacted him to carry out his suicide, but then there’s Walter’s wife Celia, who wanted a suicide pact on her wedding night and Withers, another person present at the mansion. Vincent’s struggle to find out for whom the suicide potion he carries is intended provides the impetus for most of the play.

As president of Workshop Theatre, LeBoeuf feels Natural Causes fits nicely into the progression of the company. He praises the play for its great writing and superb humour.

“At one point,” says LeBoeuf, “I had a toothpick in my mouth because I have to be biting down on it because it’s going to be difficult not to laugh.”

He also notes the play is a commentary on materialism and class structures, a theme he sees running through playwright Eric Chappell’s work. LeBoeuf makes it clear Natural Causes is not meant as farce, a genre he’s trying to get away from.

“It was important for me to look at more intelligent scripts, if you like, that were not essentially farce,” he explains. “Comedy doesn’t have to be farce, comedy doesn’t have to be comedy, it can be black comedy. And so I went for what I considered to be a well-written literate script which might leave people not only laughing, but thinking at the end of the show.”

Provoking serious contemplation and providing big laughs are LeBoeuf’s goals, and Natural Causes is the perfect vehicle to achieve them.

“You can’t do a play about suicide and death without prompting some thought and analysis to what some of the issues really are,” stresses LeBoeuf. “[Natural Causes] does it in a funny way, and I guess that’s the essence of black comedy. You can laugh but it’s serious at the same time, and that’s hard to do.”

LeBoeuf is quick to note Workshop Theatre is not about pushing the envelope. When it comes to staging edgier work he is not talking about the irreverent or avant-garde, but rather swerving from the tradition of British farce the company is known for towards more serious work.

LeBoeuf notes the theatre company, now in its 35th year, is in a state of transition. Due to the changing demographics of Workshop Theatre’s members and patrons it’s increasingly difficult to stage British work. LeBoeuf is looking to stage more Canadian plays, such as T. Gregory Argall’s A Year in the Death of Eddie Jester and David French’s thriller Silver Dodger.

“I’m always on the lookout for good Canadian plays,” says LeBoeuf. “We live in Canada, I want to support the dramatic community and the authors of Canada. I think that’s really important.”

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