It is September 11, 2001. The United States is under attack. Huge commercial jets have slammed into New York’s Twin Towers. In Washington, a third commercial jet has slammed into the Pentagon. Nearly three thousand people die; hundreds more are wounded and the economic impact exceeds a trillion dollars. Nothing will ever be the same again.
This is perfect for Ben Harcourt (Eric Kennedy).
Harcourt is a nebbish; a feeble shadow of a man who wants to leave his wife and family to live with his mistress, Abby Prescott (Devora Zack), who is also his boss. But he lacks the intestinal fortitude to confront his wife, tell her what he wants, and man up and pay child support before the New York Family Court.
So this national catastrophe provides a wonderful opportunity for him: he can pretend that he has perished in the flames, be mourned as a hero, and escape with Abby to some other place, living under an assumed name. And all he has to do is hole up in Abby’s apartment and not answer his cell phone!
Neil LaBute’s The Mercy Seat is a gem of a play, a picture-perfect description of two very recognizable people under extraordinary circumstances. Harcourt is the kind of man who hides his inability to make a decision or to accept the consequences of the decisions forced upon him behind a sort of masculine obliviousness.
He grunts; he sits in silence; when asked a question instead of answering it he asks why the question is being asked. You know the type. Abby, a dozen years older, tough and independent, is similarly recognizable. She is passionate and committed; the sort of woman who brooks no nonsense. You know that she rose to her position by getting to the truth of whatever was before her faster than anyone else. Her strength, which is passion, is also her weakness; she is in the throes of lust for this beautiful boy, and, almost against her will, is in love with him too.
This is a ninety-minute cat-and-mouse chase in which Abby tries to get Ben to confront the true consequences of the action he’s contemplating and Ben with all his might tries to evade them. The dialogue sizzles like a steak on a grill which, whenever it is ripped open, will still be raw.
I am delighted to announce that The Capital City Players of Washington, DC plays the hell out of it. Kennedy and Zack become their characters instantly, and tear into each other like retired supermodels upon a porterhouse. They get every nuance LaBute puts into his characters; Kennedy’s nasal whine, delivered at high volume, captures every ounce of Ben’s aggrieved woundedness, and Zack is stunningly convincing as Abby. She is the kick-ass executive; she is the mature woman in a miasma of lust; she is a woman in love who desperately wants her lover – who she understands is an ass – to stay with her.
Director James Villarrubia (who also designed the evocative set) gifts us with a production crackling with electricity.
The Capital City Players, formerly known as The Foundry Players, is a community theater. You probably know that community theater is kind of a crap shoot. Sometimes it’s very good. Sometimes it is godawful.
But this is freakin’ fabulous.
The Mercy Seat continues thru July 28, 2012 at The Blackbox at CHAW, 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC
Details and tickets