note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Abby Prescott Ö Paula Plum
Ben Harcourt Ö Robert Pemberton
Hereís the scenario: Abby and Ben, two New Yorkers in their third year of an extramarital affair, have their lives put on hold by the bombing of the World Trade Center. Ben sees the national tragedy as a personal blessing: assumed to be dead in the blast (he has refused to answer calls on his cell phone), Ben now wants to abandon his wife and children and skip town with Abby so he can continue to sodomize her till Kingdom come; Abby goes along with much of it before the final phone call. This may sound like an Orton farce but it is Neil LaButeís THE MERCY SEAT at the Lyric Stage and is meant to be taken quite seriously. Having now encountered three of Mr. LaButeís stage works, I envision his muse as a rhino with an angelís halo; his program notes about how and why he wrote this particular play reinforce my impression: I canít help feeling that despite his humanitarian intentions he is not-so-secretly relishing every wounding word, every bashing or murder, every betrayal inspired and blessed by St. Rhino. THE MERCY SEAT is not as easy to dismiss as another of his cruel evenings: the second half of the play deepens and Abby passes into the third dimension as Ben starts to come clean though the audience must put up with a lot of soapy noise beforehand. Should he continue this deepening, Mr. LaBute may come out the other end and show what is RIGHT about love and sex between a man and a woman --- right now, heís still in the Inferno.
Eleanor Mooreís white lighting is not kind to the eyes but Brynna Bloomfield has designed a simple, stylish living room that doubles as a boxing ring (are those supposed to be abstracts of the shattered World Trade Center, on either side?) and Eric C. Engel has staged THE MERCY SEAT as theatre-in-the-round by placing additional chairs behind the set. Paula Plum and Robert Pemberton play the battling lovers: the difference in their performances is that Ms. Plum, for all her rants and raves, conveys that her Abby is not always like this; Mr. Pembertonís Ben is a thick lug, 24/7, as was his Marc Antony and other encounters. He may not be the most sensitive of actors but here he works himself into childish tears by curtain call --- itís a start.