The theater company Down Every Street Productions, which aggressively announced its arrival this past summer with the gut-punching Tape, mines the LaBute canon for its second show, The Mercy Seat. The play was one of the first to deal with 9/11 -- not, however, in any way intended to provide solace or closure. It premiered in 2002 at New York's Flea Theatre, just a few blocks from Ground Zero, but was light-years removed from popular ideas about how the attacks should be theatrically interpreted.
The show is consistent with other LaBute works, says Scott Stackhouse, co-founder of Down Every Street. "He pushes buttons, definitely," he says. "Unlike other playwrights who make their statements over and over -- bashing your head with them -- LaBute doesn't feel the need to do that. He makes his statements and just walks away."
Set on September 12, the play's cast features John Hilleary as Ben, who works at the World Trade Center, and Patricia Carrier as Abby, his boss and mistress. When a well-timed break for oral sex spares them the fate of their co-workers, it prompts crises of conscience, particularly for the male lead.
"The guy is not painted sympathetically," admits Stackhouse. "But if it's too easy to point a finger at him and say 'What an asshole,' then the play is too easy. Our challenge is to make him well-rounded."
Some critics insist that LaBute is disingenuous when he maintains that his characters don't reflect his own issues, but Stackhouse disagrees. "Whether or not they're his feelings doesn't matter," he says of the playwright. "He makes us think and leaves us with choices."