SLAC’s ‘Mercury’ combines Halloween humor with insights about human behavior.

24 October 2017

SLAC’s ‘Mercury’ combines Halloween humor with insights about human behavior

Perfectly pitched performances capture the play’s balanced vision.

 

Salt Lake Tribune | Barbara M. Bannon | October 24, 2017

 

Pamela is angry and upset when her neighbor, Heather, breaks off their clandestine affair. “Sometimes when someone hurts you, you have to put that hurt somewhere else,” she tells Heather to explain why she’s done a terrible thing in retaliation.

Olive is mad at the neighbor in her duplex for hogging both parking spaces. When the neighbor’s son, Nick, and his lover, Brian, move in, she doesn’t approve of Brian’s behavior. “When I see a problem, I make it right,” she announces self-righteously. “I know the difference between right and wrong.”

Heather and Olive know just where to go to resolve their situations. They’ll visit Alicia and “SAM’s” curiosity shop, which specializes in items to help people take revenge. The shop, the not-very-nice people who frequent it and those who are its unexpected victims are the centerpiece of Steve Yockey’s outrageously dark and hilariously funny play “Mercury,” making its co-world premiere at Salt Lake Acting Company.

Like a skillful theatrical juggler, Yockey keeps several elements balanced in the air at the same time to make “Mercury” work. First of all, in spite of its emphasis on the spitefulness of human nature, the play has a comic sensibility that never quits. The characters are pushed just far enough that their interactions make us laugh at the same time that we’re appalled by what they’re saying and doing. They may be mean-spirited, but the play never is.

And “Mercury’s” shocking and surreal moments — and there are plenty of them — are firmly grounded in reality. These are all people we might know, which makes their behavior even more unacceptable and the final comeuppance of the two worst offenders more satisfying. Alicia and “SAM” bicker like a couple who have been together too long with no commitment. Olive is the definitive busybody neighbor who thinks her answer is the right one in every situation. “You’ve messed with other people’s lives,” Brian warns her, and she suffers the consequences.

Ironically, it is Olive who unearths “Mercury’s” subtext. “Apparently neither of you is capable of caring about another person. And apparently neither of you is capable of a little thing called empathy,” she says as she confronts Nick and Brian. In the present political climate, where people refuse to listen to other points of view and compassion is in short supply, this hits uncomfortably close to home.

The play’s ensemble cast and Shannon Musgrave’s efficient direction key effortlessly into maintaining Yockey’s balanced vision as well as orchestrating some larger-than-life theatrical moments. Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin’s manipulative, needy Pamela perfectly complements Brighton Hertford’s confused and vacillating Heather. Max Huftalin’s sensible, conciliatory Nick offsets Tito Livas’ constantly complaining Brian. Lily Hye Soo Dixon alternates effectively between competently in charge and flaky and finicky as Alicia, and Aaron Adams revels in the excesses of the bizarre “SAM,” the spirit of revenge. But it’s the energy of April Fossen’s obsessed Olive that propels the show; she switches easily from charming and helpful to demanding and driven as she tries relentlessly to remake the world in her image. Musgrave keeps them all in motion and on the same page like one very dysfunctional family.

Gage Williams’ platform set cleverly swivels to portray the play’s different environments, and James Craig’s lighting shifts instantly from everyday to surreal. Phillip Lowe’s costumes unfailingly delineate character, and kudos to Cynthia Kehr Rees’ eclectic sound design; its screams and unearthly rumblings add another layer to the play, as does Glenn and Linda Brown’s huge and very functional puppet.

If you’re looking for unique Halloween entertainment that also has some meat and meaning, “Mercury” is the play for you. It’s guaranteed to make you laugh and wince at the same time.