Benji Jones and Eric Morales Are Terrific in “The Mercy Seat” by Neil LaBute

"The Mercy Seat" by Neil LaBute is set in the aftermath of 9/11
"The Mercy Seat" by Neil LaBute is set in the aftermath of 9/11

"The Mercy Seat" by Neil LaBute is set in the aftermath of 9/11
"The Mercy Seat" by Neil LaBute is set in the aftermath of 9/11

Not much happens Neil LaBute’s powerful post-9/11 drama, The Mercy Seat, now completing its all-too-short two-week run on Raleigh Ensemble Players’ brand-new bare-walled main stage on the ground floor at 213 Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh, NC. Except everything.

When the curtain rises, it is the morning after 9/11 and very married World Trade Center worker Ben (Eric Morales) and his slightly older single boss Abby  (Benji Taylor Jones) are sitting around having a Morning After conversation after an unexpected sleepover. Both of them are obviously still in shock.

Topic A is whether Abby and Ben will use Ben’s presumed death during the collapse of the Twin Towers as an opportunity to run away together and abandon Ben’s family to their bottomless grief over losing their husband, father, and breadwinner. But like many of Bash: Latterday Plays playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute’s provocative walks on the Dark Side of our common humanity, every scrap of small talk is freighted with Deeper Meaning, sometimes on multiple levels.

Even with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace as the unacknowledged elephant in the room, The Mercy Seat is a tasty dramatic onion that Benji Taylor Jones and Eric Morales peel brilliantly, layer by layer, under the sure-handed guidance of director Sean A. Brosnahan. The always-interesting actress Benji Jones gives a riveting performance as the passionate Abby, who keeps pick, picking, picking at Ben, to see if his heartless proposal to leave his family is his true self — a new, ruthless, reptilian self — just now emerging from his psychic ooze. And the ever-reliable actor Eric Morales proves, when prodded, than there are volcanic emotions just under the unnaturally calm surface of Ben.

To say much more would ruin the fun. But I will say this: Buy your ticket today, before the final two performances of this incendiary drama are sold out.

SECOND OPINION: April 13th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by David Fellerath (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-mercy-seat-at-raleigh-ensemble-players/Content?oid=2365636; and April 13th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/04/13/1125235/play-peels-idealism-off-the-relationship.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the April 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/04/rep-stages-neil-labutes-911-play-the-mercy-seat/.)

Raleigh Ensemble Players presents THE MERCY SEAT at 8 p.m. April 15 and 16 at 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $10 ($5 REPpass holders).

BOX OFFICE: 919/832-9607, gorep@juno.com, or http://www.realtheatre.org/box_office.html.

SHOW: http://www.realtheatre.org/box_office.html. SEASON: http://www.realtheatre.org/plays.html.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.realtheatre.org/index.html.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://realtheatre.org/directions.html.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mercy_Seat_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=1937 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_LaBute (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&first=Neil&last=LaBute&middle= (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=391488 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001438/ (Internet Movie Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).