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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Mercy and the Firefly Confounds and Confuses

Also see Bob's review of The World Goes 'Round

Alicia Rivas, Andrea Gallo, Marcie Henderson and Christopher Daftsios
It is not easy either to relate or even remember all of the plethora of spoken back stories and secret revelations which constitute the squishy bedrock of Amy Hartman's would-be poetic and perversely powerful new play Mercy and the Firefly. However, the verdict on this unpalatable mash-up of Southern Gothic (despite its Homestead, Pennsylvania, setting) and liberal uplift social drama is never in doubt right from the beginning. In fact, if your "uh oh, this is not going to be good" detector goes off when you read in your program that the time is "Present Day; Early June; the days that follow the rain," then rest assured that Mercy and the Firefly is not for you.

The two-act play unfolds with a prologue and ten scenes. The prologue is set in a chapel in East Los Angeles, where 15-year-old parochial school student Mercy Rivera is praying to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Her angry prayer is in rap poetry (only a Philistine would suggest doggerel) and laced with profanity. I think that the time for such nonsense is already past, but feel free to disagree.

The scene then switches to Pennsylvania, about sixteen hours later. Lucy, a troubled, mentally disturbed school teaching nun has returned to her hometown, her addled mother Vivian, and her old boyfriend Oliver. Oliver, who was a teenage junkie when Lucy headed out to East L.A. maybe a decade ago, has straightened himself out (at least until now) and is working as a janitor.

Ostensively, Lucy is there for a summer vacation visit. However, we learn that Lucy has been suspended from teaching because she had compassionately hugged Aisha, a mute child, in a closet and called the police to inform them that the girl was being neglected. She could not stand East L.A. any longer because there are gunshots every night and Latino gangs are killing blacks. "187" (the number of the California statute regarding the crime of murder) had been sprayed painted all over Aisha's school locker as a death threat. Then Aisha was trapped in a circular glass door where she was fatally shot. She was shot by Mercy Rivera. Lucy has brought Mercy with her to Pennsylvania to protect her from detection and arrest by the police. You have to understand that Mercy had no choice but to shoot Aisha because she had been ordered to do so by her boyfriend. A girl has to obey her boyfriend because that is the way it is in her milieu, and failure to do so could result in her being killed herself. Oh, lest I forget, the traumatized Mercy is now mute. I would assume that this assures us that at heart, it is her circumstances and not Mercy that is responsible for Aisha's death. If that isn't enough, maybe the murder weapon, the gun, could do some time.

Among the revelations ahead, we will hear Vivian regale Mercy with stories of how she knifed both of her parents when she was sixteen, teenage pregnancy, and alcohol and drug addiction. Mercy will recover her power of speech and seduce Oliver. We'll learn that Lucy helped Oliver when he was prostituting himself in order to earn money to pay for drugs. There will be more belligerent rap talk from Mercy. And Lucy will learn that her father was ... I'll not reveal that secret here, but it is not the big deal that is made of it here.¬†¬†Here comes my favorite line in the play. Oliver and Mercy tell Vivian that there is a bad smell in her house. "Everything stinks", they tell her. Vivian responds, "It's the trout". Well, I would not blame it on the trout.

Director Cheryl Katz keeps the performers in motion in the long, narrow playing area between the two facing seating sections and on the stage at one end which serves as Vivian's house. Various locations are represented by props toward the other end of the central playing area, although we do not always know the specific locale of each scene.

The performances by Marcie Henderson (Lucy), Christopher Daftsios (Oliver) and Alicia Rivas (Mercy) are heartfelt and intense. Andrea Gallo's line readings are oddly singsong-like and unconvincing. I incorrectly thought that Homestead was a fictional place, given the overarching falseness and unreality of everything about its representation here. However, it is an actual town.

Luna Stage's promotional description of Mercy and the Fireflies describes it as "a story of finding forgiveness, even in the midst of darkness." The ability of audiences to so forgive is being tested by this play. I am certain that dedicated New Jersey theatre enthusiasts will pass this test with flying colors. After all, Luna Stage is a treasured New Jersey institution which has earned our appreciation and respect with its development and production of a considerable body of valuable and enlightening work.

Mercy and the Firefly continues performances (Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through March 13, 2011, at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. Box Office: 973-395-5551; online:

Mercy and the Firefly by Amy Hartman; directed by Cheryl Katz

Oliver.................. Christopher Daftsios
Vivian..............................Andrea Gallo
Lucy........................Marcie Henderson
Mercy...............................Alicia Rivas

Photo: Steven Lawler

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