Provoking thought: 9/11 story examines selfishness in a time of tragedy

“The Mercy Seat” brings a war within a war to its audiences.

Taking the stage in a Things Unseen Theatre production at the Church in the Middle of the Block Cultural Center in the coming weeks, the 2002 play by playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute takes place the day after 9/11, and tells a story of the show’s only two characters, Ben and Abby.

Ben was supposed to be at work at the World Trade Center the day the towers fell, but instead was with his boss and mistress, Abby.

“They’re in her apartment, the day after, having wide-ranging discussions about the situation and the opportunity that it presents to them personally. The show deals with the selfish reasons that we might do something. In such a wide-ranging national tragedy, how much time do we really spend thinking about ourselves versus actually doing something for others?” the production’s director, Tara Enedy, said in an interview last week.

“It’s definitely a drama. It’s definitely got some language in it. These are two adults having a conversation about personal thoughts and feelings and wants and dislikes, and they are, I mean, certainly 9/11 was a start of a war, and they are waging their own war on each other, the people that they’re supposed to be the most in love with,” she said.

The timing of the show is intentional, Enedy said.

“The production dates of the show were chosen for a reason,” she said. “Obviously, the first two weekends in September are very close to the actual 9/11 anniversary. So that will help the audience to be in that mindset of where these characters are. In addition, we are doing things in the theater that should help set the atmosphere in New York City the day after.”

The show’s only two characters are played by Brooke Meadows of Hollidaysburg as Abby and Antoine Malvoisin of Colver as Ben.

“The characters are raw – exposed at their cruelest and most desperate. What a scary place to go as an actor. We have to cross a line into some ugly emotional territory, so to act in this show is to be vulnerable,” Meadows wrote in an email. “My hope is that audiences will recognize the humanity beneath all the ugliness, that they’ll empathize with Ben and Abby even while disagreeing with their behavior and/or choices. Call me a dreamy artist, but I hope theatergoers will actually be inspired to have compassion for those who anger, hurt or generally annoy them.”

Malvoisin said he has enjoyed working with Enedy and Meadows. The production is a lot of work and challenging in a couple of ways, and he’s looking forward to putting on the show.

“It’s a challenge to get into (the heavy subject) and see how other people think, and try and bring some life to the character itself,” he said.

The show does counter the heavy subject with lighter moments, Enedy said.

“I have two excellent actors who are really putting a ton of work into making these two characters really full and rich and complex, and there’s a lot in the script but there’s so much that’s open for interpretation, as well,” Enedy said. “I’m really pleased and proud of the production. The actors are just excellent. They’re working so hard, and they’re making some really brave choices, which is exciting. It’s exciting theater.”

Enedy wants the audience to keep the conversation going after the show, and to have “spent some time with thoughts about selfishness, and selflessness in the big picture,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030. Follow her on Twitter (@AmandaGabeletto), Facebook (Amanda Gabeletto Altoona Mirror) and on her Mirror blog “House of Gab” at