THE MERCY SEAT by Neil LaBute, directed by Matthew Kutas and Evan Tsitsias (Outside Edge). Alchemy Theatre (133 Tecumseth). To May 14. $15-$22. See Continuing, page 86. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Neil Labute's stage and screen works often tackle the battle of the sexes. He ups the ante by setting The Mercy Seat in New York City the day after 9/11.
Ben and Abby have been involved in an office romance for a while, though he's married. The indecisive Ben Abby ironically suggests he should change his name from "Ben" to "But" sees the catastrophe as "our meal ticket," a chance to disappear from his family.
LaBute pushes most of the right buttons in examining this prickly relationship, mining the sometimes grim comedy around the generation gap and workplace competition, but Abby is the more dramatically involving of the two characters.
Jane Moffat gives her the appropriate edginess, needling Ben to get a rise from him and have him share his emotions with her. She also has the play's best speech, an uncomfortable, increasingly upsetting monologue about her thoughts during sex; here Abby gives vent to the anger, pain and self-deprecation she feels with a lover who's closed off.
LaBute doesn't give Ben much of a chance to open up, but I wish actor Cyrus Lane suggested the stirrings beneath the surface. It's fine for him to be numb and shell-shocked at the start of the play, but the ongoing dialogue between the couple should provoke more in Ben than we see or even sense in Lane's performance.
Part of the problem with Ben would be solved if co-directors Matthew Kutas and Evan Tsitsias had given the production more tension. That would make the occasional tender moment between Ben and Abby, and Ben's rare dip into his feelings, even richer.