Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Mercy Seat by Neil Labute.

by Joe Straw

Ben (Johnny Clark) just sat there.  Stunned by the events of 9/11, he sat not listening to his phone, which was ringing continuously.  The blood in his face was bright red as though he had just escaped the towers moments before the first tower disintegrated.  And now he sits and thinks about his next move.  

In the background, near the kitchen, a small television replays the events from the prior day, but goes unnoticed.

And Ben just sits and listens to his cell phone, takes it out, recognizes the callers, and with little emotional stake he moves on.

A small trip to the grocery store and “his partner” Abby (Michelle Clunie) enters.  

This cannot be the beginning of the play. One must have arrived in the middle. 

Take back.

Take two. One walks in and observes a man sitting on a couch, playing with his phone not answering it.  It rings, quite a bit, to the point of annoyance.  He gathers the information on the screen and slips it back into his pocket.  In the background is a television set playing what are the events of 9/11. And then a lovely woman enters.  She’s a little disturbed, troubled, pissed, and/or agitated, for reasons not entirely clear.

One can only guess why Ben sits on a specific part of the sofa and begs for forgiveness without coming right out and saying it.  He is planning a deed for which there is no forgiveness, no forgiveness from his wife, his kids, his mistress and/or anyone else that is part of his tragic life.  Is this the mercy seat? 

The Mercy Seat written by Neil Labute and directed by Ron Klier playing at the beautiful Ford Theatre in Hollywood and presented by the VS. Theatre Company is wonderful theatre that will have you speaking to each other about love, hate and character motivations for months to come. (Providing you see it.)

Audience members immediately came out after the performance and were at an emotional loss but started a discussion in earnest. “Oh, he’s such a despicable character”.  But is he really?  Well, Cinderella he’s not but put yourself in his ill-fitting shoes.  What makes him so despicable? What is his motivation? Could we understand his perspective? Could there be a rationalization?

What can be the justification for someone to plan to commit a crime and then bring everyone down with him?   Is he so angry from current events of the world that he would commit an act so heinous as to destroy himself and those around him?  He seems like nice guy; after all he’s wearing a tie.

But, one compares him to a man who throws himself off a cliff and then screams for someone to save him.  Gratefully taking each saving hand on his way up and then purposefully pulling his savior over the cliff.   And that’s what she is, his savior.  For without her, he has nothing.

So he sits there hardly moving a muscle, in his middle class motif.

Abby enters and is visibly upset.  She brings in the groceries and violently fixes her a plate of cracker and cheese.  Slicing the cheese with such aggravation one would think she had a personal vendetta against Gruyere.  Or maybe it was the fact that it’s early morning and she’s running out to get him cheese.

“You make me feel small.” - Ben

But why is she angry?  She’s got a wonderful apartment, beautiful art on the walls, nice furnishings, a stainless steel kitchen, bay windows and a real Persian rug.  It’s her partner that she’s mad at.  And why not?  There are thousands of heroes out there helping and he just sits there as though nothing has happened.

Audie Murphy he is not.

“He (Audie) was a hero!  You don’t even recognize the word.” – Abby

How could anyone be angry?

“Duly noted.” - Abby

“Don’t”  - Ben

But, with Abby it cuts her to her core.  Still there’s a back-story we are not privy to until those moments accumulate on stage. And as this information is released the thoughts become clearer, the reason are magnified, and the despicable acts become one of a gross motivation without a clear explanation for a reason.

One is being very vague here as to not give too much away but still,

We find out:
He’s not a hero. 
He’s married.
He’s was not where he was supposed to be the morning of 9/11.
He’s untrustworthy.
His love only scratches her surface. 
He is vengeful.

There is his plan.  We’ve all got to have a plan.

(“You come in here.  You got no plan!”  -  Sylvia - Dog Day Afternoon)

“You’re the f**king guy in this relationship.” – Ben

And their relationship takes priority to the things that are happening in the city on September 12, 2001. It’s almost as though the events are a secondary thought.  Death and destruction all around them and all they can think about is the problems in their relationship?

“In your infinite wisdom, you failed to promote Me.” - Ben

Clunie as Abby gives a remarkable performance.  She was stunning and purposeful in her objective.  She wants one thing but she has a difficult time convincing him to do it.  With every sharp thought process on stage one can believe she is as expert at maneuvering her way up the corporate ladder. As bad as things got she holds the card that wins her the day.  Just an amazing performance!

Clark as Ben has a hard task in front of him.  He is the quintessential anti-hero.  It is extremely difficult to find a modicum of likeability.  Is it possible to be extremely bad or really nice with a bad objective?  Either way, his moments were often subtle and at times spectacular.  Could it be that he is testing her love to the extreme? The shovel that digs deeper is the one that makes little noise. And still the mercy seat keeps him in that pit until he can step on her back and climb out.  

The two characters in The Mercy Seat are like the wind and the bamboo struggling for superiority pushing, rolling, and bending while making violent sounds from their interaction.  And yet at the end of the storm, without a clear resolve, the wind moves on and the bamboo slowly recovers.  

Neil Labute has written a play, The Mercy Seat, which doesn't have a beginning.  It has a middle and an end and he wants you to figure out the beginning through choice pieces of information presented in the form of dialogue.  Put the puzzle together and see how everything fits. Sometimes the fit brings one to unpleasant revelations.   And if it’s a nauseating fit so be it, it makes for great theatre. 

Ron Klier, the director, has done a remarkable job of putting the pieces together.  The loving combatants on stage throw weapons that sting, and it is a never-ending battle with glorious victories on each side.   The play has a remarkable finish and one you will appreciate for years to come.  At the end of the day, it’s all about love. 

Danny Cistone, the Set Designer, created a spectacular set of an upscale loft in lower Manhattan and Mercedes Manning, the Art Director, provided the beautiful art along the walls of the upscale loft.

Andrew Carlberg, Johnny Clark, and Kimberly-Rose Wolter wonderfully produced this production.

Run to see this production!

Through April 24, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment