|I’m a big fan of Neil LaBute. Not because I think he can do no wrong. I’ve seen/read my fair share of “wrong” Neil LaBute plays. But he always makes me think. His plays almost require discussion. There are a lot of words that could be used to describe him as a playwright, dull and mindless aren’t two of them… therefore, I’m a proud member of the club.
Vs. Theatre Company is tackling the Los Angeles premiere of The Mercy Seat at [Inside] the Ford running through April 24th.
The premise; pretty interesting… very Neil LaBute. It’s September 12, 2001. Ben (Johnny Clark, Vs. Theatre Co. Artistic Director) was supposed to be in the twin towers when they went down. Instead, he was at the Manhattan loft of his 3 year mistress and boss, Abby (Michelle Clunie), for an early morning rendezvous before heading to work. We find him 24 hours later as contemplates the opportunity the epic tragedy has gifted him to leave his wife and kids (and be remembered as a hero) and start a new life, witness protection program style, with Abby. So, it’s a love story, of sorts. LaBute love. Of his play, LaBute said: “I am trying to examine the ‘ground zero’ of our lives…the painful, simplistic warfare we often wage on the hearts of those we profess to love.”
Intriguing playwright, check. Interesting premise, check.
[Inside] the Ford Theatre… a fantastic venue. Let’s be honest, it’s nice to sit in comfortable seats and gaze upon a decent sized proscenium stage for a couple of hours of story telling. The set was gorgeous. Danny Cistone created such a gorgeous NY loft; I wanted to live there. The lighting (Derrick McDaniel) and sound design (Ron Klier) were fantastic as well. The production value was stellar.
Great venue, check. Awesome set, lights, sound… check.
Unfortunately… this is where the good column on the checklist comes to an end and the bad column is readied for content.
What didn’t work: I didn’t believe it. I didn’t buy it. I thought long and hard as to whether my disbelief and lack of engagement had to do with the script, the acting, or the direction. I believe the script stands. It may not be genius, and it may have holes, but it stands. Surely a good production of this show is possible, but this wasn’t one. This is a story about a relationship and I didn’t believe Ben and Abby had one… not even a dysfunctional one filled with narcissism and self-interest… and occasional interest. A major problem. Both roles were unlikable. I just couldn’t find the universal human goodness (even/especially with their bad behavior/choices) I needed to connect with them. Even the worst villains must be sympathetic to some degree. Another problem: I didn’t believe in the given circumstances of the play, or more accurately that the actors did. I’m also not convinced it’s entirely their fault that the show didn’t work. I have a pretty strong hunch these are good actors. Good actors making bad choices. I think Johnny Clark is the bigger offender of the two actors, in a role where there is no margin of error… and that’s a tall order. I think the success of this piece lives and dies on the shoulders of the actors and their acting choices. With that being said, who better to put the kibosh on less than effective choices than the Director? Ron Klier, a theatre award winner with an extensive resume, shares a heavy share of the blame, no doubt. Ugh.
The Mercy Seat is a major disappointment.
The Mercy Seat
[Inside] The Ford Theatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E.
Hollywood, CA 90068