Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’,/I saw a white ladder all covered with water,/I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” (Bob Dylan)
One’s person’s/group’s dystopia is another person’s/group’s perfectly normal utopia: nothing abnormal or frightening or undesirable. It might be all about point of view. What the audience sees play out in Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” currently playing at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center might seem like a dystopian future or nightmare; however for Spinx (played with a gang-bent oligarchic panache by Sea McHale) it is just another day of “fun.” With his partner Lola (played with cross-dressing charm by Paul Iacono), Spinx oversees their underlings Elliot and Darren whose job it is to locate a place for Spinx’s parties, arrange the space for the party participants and guests, and not overthink the horror with which they collude.
The world of the abandoned New York City apartment chosen by Elliot (played with a confused loyalty and vulnerability by Zane Pais) and his younger brother Darren (played with a trustful neediness from the past by Jack DiFalco) has “progressed” far from the world of the Hogwarts wizardry depicted in the poster inside one of the apartment doors. It is a world of color-coded designer hallucinogenic drugs (butterflies) and expensive themed parties planned to satisfy the bizarre tastes of high-flying clients like their current Party Guest (played with a despicable arrogance by Peter Mark Kendall) the Wall Street professional who wishes to don military garb and dismember (literally) the Party Piece (played with appropriate ragdoll indifference by the young Bradley Fong) procured by Elliot and Darren and “staged” (including make-up) by the lovely Lola.
It is unfortunately not possible to describe in detail what happens at the Party and to the Party Piece except to say the events that unfold will change the viewers’ lives forever. My reaction was only a bit delayed and I was sobbing by the time I left the theatre and everything around me felt surreal. It is enough to know that as is often the case the “best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns). The Party Guest calls for the event five days early. There is an unexpected guest the Duchess (Emily Cass McDonnell), the Party Guest is late in arrival, the Party Piece is unable to perform and a substitute is required and when the guest of honor finally does arrive he has a bit of unexpected news to deliver. It is also important to know that something of the past still survives in this not-so-brave-new-world.
Love still lingers in this not-so-brave new world but it seems to have become overshadowed by greed and a growing dependence on “artificial” feelings. There is a “butterfly” for everything and the designer drugs can simulate or stimulate any experience desired including the wish to commit suicide. Elliot and Darren and their new friend Naz (played with a stunning soulful innocence by Tony Revolori) have authentic memories of the past – Elliot has the most extensive and authentic memory bank – and they playfully share those memories and their affection for one another amidst the surrounding moral decay. Naz, Elliot, and Darren often reach out and touch one another’s hearts and – “Ba-boom” – connect on a deeply affectionate level.
We use ‘dystopic” to describe a play primarily in order to distance ourselves from the reality and truth it thrusts in our faces. Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” is really not a dystopian nightmare. His 2005 play could not be more relevant or more important than it is now. It is about the present political-military-industrial complex that has managed to hold us all hostage globally and has successfully enlisted us as pawns for a very long time. Children are tortured and murdered globally in our “utopic” present with impunity. Refugees flee war and oppression and are turned away at “utopic” borders of safety. Urban centers ignore their homeless and their unemployed. Civil employees ignore legal mandates from the Supreme Court and religious fanatics find that somehow godless. The list of decay seems endless.
Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” is an engaging theatre piece that exposes the underbelly of all that we hold to be sane, and normal, and safe – the underbelly of the myriad of utopias humankind has created to distance itself from the sting of reality. Under Scott Elliott’s exacting and thoughtful direction, the ensemble cast of “Mercury Fur” successfully discomfits the assembled comfortable and challenges them not only to witness the depravity of humankind but the (possible) resilience of comradeship and affection and celebrate (perhaps) the importance of protecting those whom we love despite the circumstance and cost involved.