By Neil LaBute
Directed by Joe Jahraus
At Profiles Theatre
Delicate drama put narcissistic spin on 911 tragedy.
Neil LaBute and Profiles Theatre make for a fine artistic match. Their latest collaboration is LaBute’s brilliant two-hander, The Mercy Seat. Who else but controversial playwright Neil LaBute could get away with framing the 911 national tragedy into a narcissistic drama of two unlikeable characters? The Mercy Seat, under Joe Jahraus’ tightly paced direction, is a troubling work, filled with humor, yet engrossing enough to entangle us throughout. It is a double tour de force–for Neil LaBute and Darrell W. Cox and Cheryl Graeff!
We meet Ben (Cox) as he is glued to the TV watching CNN”s coverage of the 911 attack on September 12, 2001. He sits motionless with a cell phone in hand. It rings and rings but he doesn’t answer. Abby (Graeff) returns, covered in dust, from a grocery store. Tension fills the room as the two seem to be in the middle of a lover’s quarrel? Slowly, we learn that Ben and Abby are lovers despite Ben being married with two children and Abby being twelve years older and Ben’s boss.
The two exchange a range of sexy memories, personal insults, as well as a pure love-hate on-going process that is framed by the 911 tragedy. The dramatic tension weaves through the expressions of passion, self loathing in a battle of wills. Each strives to have the power and control over the other. The currency is sex.
Since Ben, on his way to work in one of the World Trade Center’s towers, stopped at Abby’s place for oral sex, an amazing personal opportunity presents itself from the national tragedy. Ben has been struggling with how to leave his wife and children to be with Abby. He realizes that since he has not called his wife (who believes he was in one of the towers)–he has a golden opportunity to escape his old life and live as someone else.
The 90 minute one-act covers that night as the two lovers explore the choices available to them due to the attack. The brutal realities of their relationship comes in focus as each tells the other the absolute truth as to how each feels about the other–sexually, personally and professionally. This push for dominance leads to several emotional tantrums. Without revealing much more, let me state that LaBute’s characters are fully developed and deeply enriched by the subtle power of both Cox and Graeff’s performances.
Is Abby a selfish control freak? Is Ben a coward? Can they possibly grab the opportunity presented? This is powerful drama that will keep you on the edge of your seats wondering what will happen next. LaBute here creates self absorbed, flawed characters so realistic that on one level we relate and on another level we loathe. The Mercy Seat leaves audiences debating what will ultimately happen to this two selfish troubled souls.
The genius of Neil LaBute’s dialogue is that is sound so much like realistic talk, not author speak. The delivery of incomplete sentences, the rhythm and nuanced delivery by Cox and Graeff are so profound and truthful that we easily enter their world. By the show’s end, we understand each person’s point of view as LaBute’s script is balanced. The Mercy Seat is an unsettling drama that needs t0 be seen. Profiles Theatre once again proves that they are a Chicago storefront gem.
At Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway, chic ago, IL, call 773-549-1815, tickets $30 -$35, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.