The Mercy Seat

The lights come up and I see a living room covered in dust and powder so it looks more like the before scene from The Block than anything else. 

Presented by: DoLittle ProductionsVenue: Sidetrack Theatre, 142 Addison Rd Marrickville NSW Friday 19 August, 2011  The Mercy SeatThe lights come up and I see a living room covered in dust and powder so it looks more like the before scene from The Block than anything else. I then look at the program and see the setting is New York City, September 12 2001 and shudder a little thinking of that bygone era known as pre 9/11. Coming up to the ten-year anniversary the play makes you think of how much has and hasn’t changed and does it under the guise of a relationship dissolving in that one day. 
Many stories, both big and small, have emerged and are still emerging about what happened on that day and one of the biggest was of the man who received a frantic call from his wife asking where he was. He replied calmly that he was at work, in the towers, when he was really at a mistress’s apartment unaware of the ensuing calamity just outside. This is used as the basis for an unfolding duologue between Ben (Chris Rodgers) and Abby (Jo Little). Instead of going straight to work on the morning of September 11, Ben drops by Abby’s apartment for a quick, erm, ‘snuggle’ before work and she extracts a promise from him that he will make the call that will determine the status of their relationship. When everything, erm, goes down, he stays at her apartment and doesn’t answer his phone and sees this as his chance to start over. He doesn’t answer his phone and plans they will move away and he will be presumed dead and won’t have to break his wife’s heart. The moral conundrums, ethical ambiguities and plain old selfishness in the situation are compelling.
The writing is typical of American drama, the short sharp exchanges and cutting sarcasm followed by silence and reflection spiraling until it explodes. Andrew Doyle’s direction allows these beats while still keeping the pace so the play runs for a taught 90 minutes unlike the original production that received criticism for the lengthy pauses and sighs. I can’t imagine anyone living in downtown New York City on this day in time would move or speak in a way other than what could be described as circumspect and frantic and this production captured the pace and depth well. In the first few seconds the accents jarred but perhaps only because the set could have been anywhere. At first you see a plain living room so as the accents come out it takes a moment to realise that you aren’t in inner city Sydney and it gives the play the feeling of both the local and the global.  Both actors hold their focus and drag the audience into their mini psychodrama and thoroughly understand the style and pace. Jo Little as Abby held particular appeal in her ability to show the audience her personal drama while also reminding us of what absolute tragedy was just outside. Through nothing but gesture she is able to summon the feeling of impending doom, both personal and global. 
The performances were sharp, the pace and direction strong and the writing superb. By the end as it was at the beginning – it makes one think back to that ten years and what has and hasn’t changed.   August 20 – September 3 2011 Bookings: or (02) 9550 3666 

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