Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Mercury Fur" - Where Denial is Not a River in Egypt

Reviewed by Judd Hollander
Photos by Monique Carboni

In 1988 there was an off-Broadway show that featured, as one of its segments, two actors in a talk show setting discussing how to deal with issues plaguing the world at the time. The solution: to pretend that everything is happening somewhere far away and not in their own back yard. But denial only goes so far and when one is forced to come face to face with the reality they're been desperately avoiding, it's an altogether different story. Such is the case in Philip Ridley's very sobering drama Mercury Fur, presented by the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

Jack DiFalco and Zane Pais
Ridley sets his story in a dystopian New York City, one not that far removed from the present day. Riots and crime have become commonplace, while weather patterns have gone crazy - bringing with them sand from the dessert and a strange breed of hallucinogenic butterflies, the current drug of choice. Those on the fringes of what's left of society surviving by their wits and on the back and bodies of those less fortunate than themselves. 

Doing a brisk business in the butterfly trade, along with other questionable activities is Elliot (Zane Pais), a no-nonsense sort who, with his mentally-challenged brother Darren (Jack DiFalco), has commandeered an apartment in an supposedly abandoned building for a very special party. They getting help some unexpected aid in this endeavor from Naz (Tony Revolori), a squatter from down the hall.

However this is not simply a party with liquor and drugs. Rather, what is being set up is a scene where the soon-to-arrive Party Guest (Peter Mark Kendall) will be acting out a rather dark fantasy. One where he will be in complete control over a person's life and death. Said person, the Party Piece (Bradley Fong), in actuality a young boy kidnapped by Elliot's crew sometime earlier and kept in a drugged stupor in preparation for this moment. Other members of the team including Spinx (Sea McHale), the liaison between Elliot and the Party Guest, and Elliot's lover Lola (Paul Iacono). This fantasy being one the group has apparently set up many times before.

Running hand in hand with the bleakness that’s everywhere one turns - thanks to a great set by Derek McLane - is the ever-present feeling on denial where no one wants to admit what they're actually doing. Lola, for example has no intention being present at the party under any circumstances; and also doesn't want the Party Favor awake enough to speak during the party preparations. Preparations which include Lola making up the Party Piece properly for the scene which is to follow. Additionally, the Party Favor is referred to in this manner because the others don't want to think of him as an actual human being. Something made abundantly clear when Elliot cuts off any attempt by Naz to learn the Party Favor's real name.

While it's easier for most people to play down things that aren't happening right in front of them, it's something else entirely when they're forced to confront evidence of such a situation, either virtually or in actuality. The uproar following the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs being one such example. It's the same reason why, if most meat eaters knew how their meat was slaughtered, a good portion of them would become vegetarians. There being numerous things society, as a whole, simply does not want to know about or be reminded of.

Elliot and Darren find themselves forced into their own reality confrontation with the sudden appearance of the Duchess (Emily Cass McDonnell), whose presence brings up memories both brothers have tried desperately to forget, or at least severely compartmentalize. Though giving too much information in regard to this character turns out to be one of the few weak spots in the play. The author spoon feeding the audience answers when it's better to let them draw their own conclusions. Eventually when this particular party starts to deviate from the planned script, Elliott and the rest of his family, which is basically what the group has become, find themselves forced to switch from dispassionate observers to active participants. And in doing so, must take a stand on the right and wrong of what they've set in motion.

Zane Pais, Jack DiFalco
Bradley Fong, Tony Revolori
Acting is very good, the various characters often taking on the role of symbols in the world the playwright has created. The Party Guest, for example representing both money and someone who's interested in his own pleasures rather than trying to make a difference. Ridley also has him working on Wall Street - a bit of a dig at the "one percenters" of the world. Elliot meanwhile, probably sees himself as a businessman supplying a need, doing what he has to in order for him and his family to survive, and who can't afford to worry about where he gets the materials he uses - such as the Party Favor - for his various ventures. Elliot is also dependant on those with connections, such as Spinx, to enable his business to continue. Direction by Scott Elliot is very strong, keeping the tension between the characters rising from one minute to the next, the audience never quite sure just who to root for in the scenarios presented. The aforementioned set by McLane makes the audience feel as if they were right in the middle of the action, with no way out for anybody involved.

Often hard to watch, Mercury Fur does an excellent job in showing just how adaptable human beings have become at hiding from the truth; and the not-so-pretty-sight that can follow when denial is no longer an option.

Featuring: Jack DiFalco (Darren), Bradley Fong (Party Piece), Paul Iacono (Lola), Peter Mark Kendall (Party Guest), Emily Cass McDonnell (Duchess), Sea McHale (Spinx), Zane Pais (Elliot) Tony Revolori (Naz)

Mercury Fur
by Philip Ridley

Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: M.L. Dogg
Sound Effects Design: Jeremy Chernick
Fight Direction: UnkleDave's Fight-House
Production Supervisor: PRF Productions
Production Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Director: Scott Elliott

The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes no intermission
Closes: September 27