We all remember 9/11 as an utter tragedy, but we frame that memory in a way that suits us. It is a tragedy that created heroes, that brought families closer, that birthed a new national solidarity. Even now, when we see the phrase “Never Forget” on T-shirts and bumper stickers, we all for a moment at least, hold our breaths.
But that’s not The Mercy Seat. Not even close. Throughout our vigils and prayer services and days of remembrance, we also all choose to ignore a simple truth – no one is perfect. Those towers were full of family men and adulterers alike. With alcoholics and with church choir-members. They were people. Simple, erring people.
It’s this truth that makes The Mercy Seat so difficult and so intriguing. When I first read the show, I had heartburn. I was anxious and physically uneasy, just from reading it. Of course, I knew then that it was an incredible show. There’s not a lot of action or plot twists. But it drags you in – I never fully understood the phrase “Can’t turn away from the train wreck” until this show. For ninety minutes, the audience gets a chance to watch a dark and vitriolic conversation unfold. They get to pick sides, draw conclusions, and try to play the “blame game.” Some worry that the show is too dark – the characters too twisted. I don’t think that’s the case. If anything they are pitiful. As the show progresses, you understand how they got themselves into the mess; and you pity them for it. We, as an audience, feel for them, feel with them. We relish in their mistakes as much as in their victories. It’s the same reason why reality TV is so successful.
I’ll admit that focusing on the failures of those that perished (or nearly perished) in 9/11 is a hard idea to confront – no one wants to disparage the dead, of course. But Neil LaBute has confronted the idea head on and offered us something incredible. The Mercy Seat is a chance to peek into the reality of that tragedy for two people who were saved from death only by their adultery and deceit. They aren’t perfect, but they aren’t villains either. And that is the sinister beauty of The Mercy Seat: when the veil of innocence is lifted from the discussion of 9/11, we don’t find villains… we find ourselves.
Venue: Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
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