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The Mercy Seat

Presented by MCC Theater, casting by Bernard Telsey Casting, at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42 St., NYC, Dec. 18-Jan. 15.

In a world going nuts, how do we communicate, commit, find meaning, or even care about our quotidian lives? In "The Mercy Seat" at the Acorn Theatre, two people juggle chance and change against a background of the Sept. 11 terror. As produced by MCC Theater, Neil LaBute's male-female slugfest is a nihilistic yet brutally honest work.

The situation is as ripe for farce as tragedy. Ben Harcourt is a married man who, instead of going to a WTC meeting that fateful Tuesday morning, stopped at the apartment of his lover (and boss), Abby Prescott. Now, a day later, he cannot bring himself to either answer cell-phone calls or reach his family to tell them he's alive.

A man of inaction ("but" and "whatever" are his favorite words), he has an opportunity to "erase the past," sensing the terrorist attack as the "meal ticket" to a future in which both he and the country will recover "by spending and eating and screwing." Abby wants Ben to see her as something more than an impersonal mistress.

On the surface, it's a conflict of conscience, but beneath, the work is as complex and unfathomable as human motivations. Under LaBute's precise, controlled direction, the actors brilliantly immerse us in their indecisions.

As Abby, Sigourney Weaver is elegant and sharp. You can see the tenseness of a trapped woman playing underneath her assuredness and cynicism, her probing used as a weapon to elicit truths she may not really want to hear.

As Ben, Liev Schreiber again proves what a dazzling, dangerous actor he is, encompassing the character's hurt, sadness, puzzlement, rigidity, anger, selfishness, and abject confusion—sometimes all at once. The talent is amazing, the feelings enveloping.

Invaluably supported by Neil Patel's set, James Vermeulen's lighting, Catherine Zuber's costumes, and David Van Tieghem's sound design, "The Mercy Seat" is disturbing.

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