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A Question of Mercy

Presented by The Initiative Theatre Company at Altered Stages Theatre, 212 W. 29 St., 2nd Floor, NYC, June 6-24.

If future productions of the Initiative Theatre are as fine as their inaugural revival of David Rabe's "A Question of Mercy," they are off to a memorable start. Rabe's play is provocative and poignant, but director michael cruz sullivan has made it powerful and engrossing through his tightly knit cast. The stylized setting by Christina Kovacs, the focused lighting by Sheryl Warren, and the realistic sound design by Obadiah Eaves kept rapt attention on the drama, as well as the moral questions, at all times.

Based on the true-account journal written by Dr. Richard Selzer, "A Question of Mercy" concerns a retired surgeon who is asked to assist in the suicide of a young man dying of AIDS. Narrated by Selzer, who addresses the audience directly, the play is the doctor's journey as he is confronted with the questions: will he help, will they succeed, and, finally, will the authorities catch them? Rabe's play is riveting, not depressing, because it is about active choices and their consequences. It makes the viewer examine euthanasia in a whole new light.

As the play's central character, Dr. Richard Chapman, Mac Crowell commanded attention with his sensitive portrayal, revealing the doctor's feelings, beliefs, philosophy, and fears as he becomes emotionally involved far beyond the usual doctor-patient relationship. Yuval Boim as Anthony, the AIDS victim who wants more than advice, gave a moving, compelling performance, though he wasn't believable as a Columbian.

As Anthony's lover Thomas, who has the most trouble with Anthony's impending death, Tim Loftus made his grief palpable. Helen Pickett's commanding presence did wonders with the underwritten role of their best friend, Susanah. Jeff Lucchese was amusing as the doorman of Anthony and Thomas's building who recognizes Chapman as the "miracle man" who removed his gall bladder.

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