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Off Broadway Reviews


I'm getting to that age. I am in my early thirties, and my friends are starting to settle comfortably into their careers and think about having kids. There is less frantic uncertainty in our lives. Maybe this is why I find indecisiveness less funny than annoying. I went to see Laura Cahill's play Mercy, which is about four people still trying to find their groove. They can barely make a plan to go out for gelato, let alone organize their lives. Or rather, they can make the plan, talk endlessly about its merit, and then remain exactly where they are. I found this a little frustrating to watch at times, though the play did have many very funny scenes.

The two women in the play are Sarah (played by Amelia Campbell) and Isobel (played by Marianne Hagan). Sarah is a loopy, enthusiastic documentary filmmaker whose desire is to emulate happy people and thereby become one. She keeps asking everyone if they would like to see pictures from her trip to Rome and when they are finally waded through, it is apparent that she never left her hotel room. She took photo after photo of the Pantheon, which she could see from her hotel window. This woman is in a rut. Her friend Isobel is evidently more depressed, but together they are a pair not at a crossroads, but at the center of an asterisk. They are immobilized by opportunity. It is hard to believe that Sarah could actually create a film, and it becomes clear as the play goes on that the beautiful lives of these young people are bank- rolled by generous parents.

Sarah and Isobel hold an impromptu dinner party (they break out the LARGE bottle of Ragu for the occasion) and invite Bo (played by Matt Keeslar) and Isobel's ex, Stu (played by Adam Trese). Stu is much more settled than the other three. He is a doctor, firmly established in his career, who begins to be seduced by their fantasy worlds. They make it so easy and so pleasant to contemplate the future's possibilities. Why be a boring doctor when you can be a sculptor or a writer or a trapeze artist? All you need do is declare your intention. The most appealing character of the four is Bo, a pleasantly dopey self-proclaimed cowboy from south Jersey who has decided to abandon his furniture-moving career and become a singer. Toward the end of the play, he finally sings the first song he has written, which was inspired by his hero, Bruce Springsteen, and which is sung to the tune of "Greensleeves." The other characters are transfixed. They admire the fact that he has named his dream. The play is about surfaces, and the people who love them. It is enough to say you are a documentary filmmaker; you don't actually have to make any films. To wear a cowboy hat is to be a cowboy.

My first impression on seeing the set was that I wanted to move in immediately. Yes, the raked floor might take a little getting used to, but the sunlight streamed in the windows so warmly and the walls were sponge-painted such a gorgeous shade of coral. It was my parallel universe apartment, lived in by my parallel universe self, who didn't leave soup bowls on the floor next to the couch or a collection of mugs by the computer. My parallel universe self has matching throw pillows and doesn't use milk crates as shelves. Kudos to set designer William Barclay and lighting designer Kevin Adams. I'd love them to work their magic on my living room.

The most telling set detail was the shelf with small square compartments, each containing a snow globe. How fitting that Sarah would collect tiny perfect worlds that don't actually exist.

Mercy runs until January 3, 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 E 15th St. Performances are Tues-Sat at 8, Sun 3 & 7:30. Tickets are $35.

-- Wendy Guida

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