Red Stitch presents The Mercy Seat, written by Neil LaBute, in 2002, and directed by Alex Papps. The Mercy Seat, set in the seemingly post-apocalyptic environment of New York a few days after the 9/11 attacks, engages the audience to ask such questions as; when faced with tragedy have you ever wondered – what’s in it for me? Just how easy is the easy way out? And, in a country in which a certain level of self serving opportunism is lauded, how much is too much?
The Mercy Seat is a demanding two hander. Ben Harcourt (Simon Wood) is a husband and father of two daughters, he’s not much of an achiever at work but he has managed to achieve a fairly lengthy affair with his immediate boss. Abby Prescott (Jane Badler) is that boss, a tough talking, successful business woman looking to get a bit of ‘ass’ on the side but getting a little emotionally confused along the way. He’s a younger man, she’s an older woman. Having found themselves fortuitously physically safe following the 9/11 attacks they begin to wonder if this is their chance to leave an old life behind and finally be together.
So, yes, the premise is a little clichéd, it is one, I believe, which intends to rely on the dynamism of cast and director to reveal more depth and interest. This Red Stitch production doesn’t quite manage that.
Jane Badler and Simon wood are strong performers. But, despite exposing hints of their charisma, there is not much dynamism between the two. The result is that it is hard to believe in the play’s premise. That is, it is hard to conceive of this relationship being one that either has invested much in to, or that either is genuinely willing to take risks for. The single moment of scripted passion between the two characters serves only as a hint of what could have been achieved here, rather than as a moment that is affecting. Director Alex Papps has mislaid most of the moments of disclosure, humour and passion that are in this play by directing it in a single paced and monotonously toned manner.
The set, designed by Peter Mumford, is intended to be an up market New York loft, ash covered and rendered harsh by disaster, but it is quite a mundane effect. It appears neither up market nor logically affected by the attacks, I found it distracting. The choice to position the lounge, which is the primary piece of furniture to the side and on an angle served, I believe, to reinforce the repetitive direction of this production.
The Mercy Seat is intended, I believe, to be a drawn out, emotionally combative piece in which the two characters dissect and reveal themselves, both loving and hating each other, desiring and disgusting each other. This Red Stitch production fails to act on the opportunity to shock and move its audience, as moments of revelation are lost for the reason that Abby and Ben’s relationship is not a believable one. The Mercy Seat presents audiences with two characters who face catastrophe by consoling themselves with a fantasy life which neither of them truly believes in; they then spend 90 minutes breaking that fantasy down. If no one, not even the audience, believes in the prospect of their new life, where is the revelation? I wanted more from this production as the potential for Red Stitch to achieve more is clearly evident.
Perhaps this production does answer the play’s question after all. What’s in it for me? Not enough.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
The Mercy Seat
by Neil LaBute
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
Dates: Fri February 8 – Sat March 8
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6.30pm.
Previews: $18 Wed 6 and Thurs 7 February
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083