If one could time travel back to pre September 11, 2001, might one convince Atta, plotting his twin tower atrocities in Hamburg, to fly his planes into an apartment block nearby the World Trade Centre instead and put the two morally bankrupt people that populate Neil LaBute’s THE MERCY SEAT out of their misery.
Abby is Ben’s boss and sugar mommy. He was supposed to be at work in the World Trade Centre when the jets hit but was bonking the boss in her apartment instead.
In the post coital, post apocalyptic aftermath, Ben sees this act of terrorism as a “meal ticket” out of his moral morass.
He will have his wife and kids believe that he has perished in the attack, sparing them the pain of his infidelity and springboard a new life elsewhere with Abby.
The program notes tell us that this production only had three works rehearsal disrupted by eviction from NIDA. Four collaborating directors are credited but the collective fails to give cohesion. Too many cooks, and all that.
Performances are robust but characterisation suffers probably because of the shrunken rehearsal time and commitment to learning the lines over creating a character.
Opposites attract notwithstanding, the credibility of the relationship is stretched, with Abby being the career driven, glass ceiling ball buster and Ben, the man child who can only service his lover doggie style. Mind you, he’s a might less malicious and malevolent than most other LaBute brutes like the alpha misogynists of Fat Pig and In the Company of Men.
Patrick Magee plays Ben as a catatonic couch potato for a good part of the first act, leaving Rebecca Martin’s Abby to prowl, prod and provoke some sort of action from him. All she gets is reaction, until the toyboy mans up a little in the second act.
When Ben looks out on the devastation of the towers he exclaims “It’s biblical”. He could be answering the question, ‘Where does the play’s title come from?’ It’s an arcane term from the Bible regarding the Ark of the Covenant and loosely translated as an atonement piece.
LaBute’s script is, ultimately, about atonement, but it’s far from being a perfect act of contrition.
THE MERCY SEAT by Neil LaBute plays The Old Fitz, Woolloomooloo Tues-Sat8pm Sundays 5pm till July 5.