at the 24th Street Theatre
Time, loss, perspective, faith—these themes resonate in Constance Congdon's play, which ties together characters across time in a sort of nuclear déjà vu, drawing an intentionally oblique line from Oppenheimer's creation of the atomic bomb in 1945 to an evangelical broadcast glorifying the end times in 1985, when the play was written. Well, it's not the end of the world that now, 20 years later, No Mercy has pretty much lost its excitement and edginess. From my perspective, that's more of a testament to the fact that American theatre has moved forward. But it does leave this well-mounted production feeling a bit, well, neither here nor there.
Larry Biederman directs a fine cast, whose members, fortunately, make themselves right at home with this material even at its most willfully enigmatic. Matty Ferraro plays Roy, the young soldier itching to be part of something important, who's there with his buddy (Tim Banning) at the first nuclear detonation but can never speak of the top-secret events; John Dennis Johnston is a damaged but undaunted Roy 40 years later. Roy's wife, Ramona (Susan Merson), spends her time watching Christian TV and mourning their lost son; her counterpart is a young pregnant woman (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), also with a military husband on hush-hush duty. They intersect because of an inexplicably pivotal guitar and a Bible-spewing television host (Ashley West Leonard); other paths lead to two lost boys: Ramona's neighbor's kid (Robby Stehlin) and a time-traveling Oppenheimer (Phil Ward). Yet despite the playwright's not-so-random connections between them, each character is insulated with unknowns that make it difficult for the audience to connect to them.
The production design works well; Sibyl Wickersheimer's set and Lap-Chi Chu's lighting create an appropriately disconcerting world full of possibilities. And John Zalewski's electrifying sound design almost steals the show. Perhaps that's because the energy at the core of No Mercy has passed its half-life.
Presented by and at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sep. 29-Nov. 5. (800) 838-3006.
Reviewed by Jennie Webb