Brian Finkelstein’s First Day Off In a Long Time is an hour-long monologue about suicide, a premise which, in itself, seems like comedy suicide. But in actual fact, the way he discusses suicide feels like a comedy of errors and possibly also an affirmation of life. Finkelstein’s meandering story of his time as a suicide hotline volunteer is truly a lot more fun than it sounds.
As we were ushered in at the late hour of 10:15 for this sold-out session, I was hoping that I would not become an unfortunate victim of festival fatigue, having already seen two shows that evening. I sat front row centre as a kind of preventative measure – up close and personal, so there would be no way to disengage or sneak a quick little micro-nap in. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry about that because listening to Finkelstein is like sipping on a really excellent cup of coffee; it tastes good and it gives you a buzz.
Finkelstein tells us how he got into the suicide business, about the personal demons that gave him special insight into the minds of hotline callers, about the vetting process to become a suicide hotline volunteer, and countless other side-notes as he went along. Although he strayed and took detours down paths to other facets of his life, he wove these in nicely and always brought us back home.
He does an hilarious impression of the director of the suicide hotline, a touchy-feely jargon-spouting California hippie who punctuates his thoughts with “right on.” He talks about how he became one of the “fab four” volunteers who made it through the vetting process, and gives an account of a few of the characters that didn’t make the cut. Each one is eliminated with a percussive rap on the table by Finkelstein, giving that section of his monologue some extra punch. He also pays tribute to his storytelling idol Spalding Gray, and relates this to his own angst in wrestling with his inner demons despite outwardly appearing successful and fulfilled.
As the story progressed, Finkelstein’s delivery became increasingly rapid, and I wasn’t sure if this was the result of him being aware that he had to wrap things up, or if it was a deliberate accelerando to the finish. Whatever the case, it was all over before we knew it, and the woman I sat next to and I remarked to each other how quickly the time flew; it honestly felt like we had only been in the room for 30 minutes.
I get the feeling that Finkelstein tells this story as a kind of atonement; and it’s not so much a punishment or confession as it is a reminder to himself and to us that we really are responsible for each other. There is a lesson to his monologue which he delivers gently, soberly and without sentimentality; we can’t always protect each other from everything that threatens, but we should look out for each other as much as we can.
The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Barefaced present
First Day Off In A Long Time
by Brian Finkelstein
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre Studio
Dates: 18 – 22 February, 2014
Tickets: $18 – $22