Exploit-O-Rama!

Liking The Mercy Seat, hating the people in it

Photo by Deidre SchooWhile what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was an overwhelming tragedy for many, others saw it as mere opportunity. Manhattan sidewalk vendors scalped World Trade Center post cards as instant collector's items. Religious fundies used it to crassly hawk Armageddon. Bush used it to help propagate the Iraq war, whether he admits it or not.

There were also small, personal exploitations no one will ever know about, which is what Neil LaBute's TheMercySeattries zeroing in on. We have Ben Harcourt (Chey Kennedy), who, on the morning after you-know-when, is at the home of Abby Prescott (Katherine Prenovost), the boss he's having an affair with. Ben hasn't been in contact with anyone other than Abby for 24 hours—seems he was supposed to be working that morning at or near Ground Zero, but a tryst with Abby proved to be too tempting, and now he's thinking the disaster unfolding on live TV might just be the excuse he needs to permanently disappear from his wife and kids and start a new life with his secret lover. If only his cell phone would stop trying to call him back to the life he so desperately wants to leave behind.

Throughout the play, Ben is constantly weighing pros and cons of such a life-changing action (though we find out at the end he's known his decision all along), egged on by Abby, who insists that if they go through with their plans, everyone will think Ben died a hero. I won't quibble too much with the obvious hole here—wouldn't suspicions of Ben's death be roused if no body or DNA evidence turns up in the WTC rubble? Then again, Ben's thinking with his dick the whole time—the boss, after all, is "one hell of a sweet fuck"—so logic wouldn't make sense to him anyway.

As the play develops, Ben comes off as someone who's completely, totally soulless—a manipulative, guilt-wracked coward who only fucks Abby in her back porch so he doesn't have to look her in the face. He's really an emotional terrorist, as evil as the ones who rammed the airplanes into the towers the day before. But it's also hard to sympathize much with Abby, who's made her life a hollow void and thinks running away with Ben will solve all her problems.

They're two completely unlikable, volatile, greedy people who go from being kissy-kissy one minute to screaming at each other the next—if they ever did run off, you can't help thinking, there's no way they'd last even a week together. Ben has such deep communication problems that at one point, he has to phone Abby to tell her something, even though she's only 10 feet away in the same room.

You wind up hating them both—but curiously, not so much LaBute's disturbing script. God knows there are millions of real people exactly like Ben and Abby, some of whom may very well have thought up a stunt like the one these characters mull over. That human minds can think like Ben and Abby do is ultimately the most unsettling thing about TheMercySeat.

THE MERCY SEAT AT THE HUNGER ARTISTS THEATER, 699-A S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 680-6803. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 7 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 20. $12-$15.

 
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