The horrific future conjured in “Mercury Fur” – a world piled high with atrocities ranging from the killing of zoo animals to random decapitations to child torture – is clearly meant to shock. But what is unexpected in the New Group’s revival of Philip Ridley’s 2005 dystopian fantasy is how tedious it is.
Critics were fiercely divided over the original production in England, where it became a hit and went on to be produced around the world, including three times Off-Off Broadway. The New Group has chosen the play as the first production of its new season.
On the surface, “Mercury Fur” tells the story of two teenage brothers, Elliot (Zane Pais) and the younger Darren (Jack DiFalco), who break into an abandoned apartment, in order to put together the latest “party” organized by their gang leader Spinx (Sea McHale.) It quickly becomes clear that these are not normal parties – they are meant to make real the sickest, most violent fantasies of their rich clients.
But their activity hardly stands out in a New York City (transposed from the original London setting) that has gone completely to hell, with nobody apparently in charge, gangs rioting and killing, institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Bronx Zoo destroyed, history and individual memory obliterated. There are snippets of explanation for how this apocalypse came about: There was some kind of invasion, and perhaps a natural calamity that brought both sand and hallucinogenic butterflies, which, when ingested, provide temporary escape and permanent brain damage.
Over the course of the two hours (without intermission) of “Mercury Fur,” we piece together the relationships among the half-dozen characters who enter the apartment, realize that they are intimately connected, and that we are meant to understand that the horrible things they do are out of love and loyalty to one another, to help each other survive. Most charitably, then, we can interpret the play as a look at what happens to love during a holocaust.
We might also see the monologues full of graphic violence, and dialogue replete with in-your-face vulgarity and ethnic slurs, as the playwright’s effort to show us the breakdown of language in the absence of civil society.
But “Mercury Fur” demands a visceral reaction far more than it allows an intellectual one. The violence throughout most of the play is talked about, rather than staged, but what the characters say does violence to the English language in deeply off-putting ways. To pick a mild example: Darren, Elliot says, is hanging around Elliot’s “fucking ankles like a million miles of machine-gunned afterbirth.” That phrase, “machine-gunned afterbirth,” is repeated a couple of times. Are we meant to understand this as an example of the character’s poverty of expression, or is it the playwright’s? Does it much matter which it is, when you have to sit through so many of such bankrupt phrases?
Even more alienating is the use of an actual child actor as “the Party Piece” – the person whom the “Party Guest” has paid to torture and kill – who looks no older than 10. (The actor, says his Who’s Who, “will attend the Hammarskjold Middle School in the fall.”)
With that single exception, director Scott Elliott has chosen his cast wisely. They are talented and sexy. The always reliable Derek McLane has created a set that seems to envelope the audience at the Signature theater; with graffiti on the walls behind us, and stuffed armchairs for seats in the front rows inches away from two sides of the small stage, we are made to feel as if we are in the apartment with the characters.
The high production values, however, do little to offset the numbing effect of what could arguably be labeled soft-core gore porn. By the time the relentless violent talk finally turned to violent action – lots of blood and gunshots – I had long before turned off and tuned out.
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The New Group at the Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater
by Philip Ridley
directed by Scott Elliott
Cast: Jack DiFalco, Bradley Fong, Paul Iacono, Peter Mark Kendall, Emily Cass McDonnell, Sea McHale, Zane Pais, Tony Revolori
Scenic Design Derek McLane Costume Design Susan Hilferty Lighting Design Jeff Croiter Sound Design M.L. Dogg
Special Effects Design Jeremy Chernick Fight Direction UnkleDave’s Fight-House
Running time: Two hours, no intermission
Ticket prices: $27.00 – $97.00
“Mercury Fur” is scheduled to run through September 27, 2015