A Question of Mercy
Santa Monica Mirror, July 2000
David Rabe At Pacific Resident Theatre
Special to the Mirror
Easily the finest production I’ve seen this year– not, only for its brilliantly crafted script, but for the insightful performances which bring it to life –David Rabe’s “A Question of Mercy” is one you shouldn’t miss.
The play, which explores the subject of doctor-assisted suicide, is the final production of the Pacific Resident Theatre’s 1999-2000 season.
Anthony is dying of AIDS, and his life has become a constant agony. To end his suffering, Anthony and his lover, Thomas, seek the help of Dr. Robert Chapman, a retired surgeon and virtual stranger. Unwilling at first, Dr. Chapman finally agrees to be involved. Through the events which ensue, the Doctor’s notions of medicine and law, mercy and villainy are thrown into crisis.
If you think you’ve seen this material before, you don’t know David Rabe. In this remarkably unclouded representation Rabe uncovers the limitations of human control. Capturing the complexity of the play’s questions through fresh images and unexpected turns, he leaves us with a picture of ethical deadlock, a challenge to opinions on both sides of the issue.
Under the clear careful direction of Matt Gottlieb, this story unfolds seam-
lessly, and Gottlieb’s design team only enriches the experience. In a relatively small space, designers Tom McDermott (lighting), Audrey Eisner (costumes), Norman Scott (scenic), and Tim Joy (sound) create a convincing world. Scene changes happen in a blink and dream sequences overtake us like real dreams.
An exceptional cast completes this package. Never stopping to languish in Rabe’s prose, the actors tell this story with tremendous focus and intelligence. Robert Bailey is flawless as Dr. Robert Chapman. As the main narrative voice, he guides us through the plays uncontrollable chain of events with heartbreaking restraint. George Villas gives apowerful performance as Anthony, the man dying of AIDS. Although Anthony’s illness becomes an important presence on the stage, it is only one aspect of Villas’s beautifully realizedcharacter. The struggles of the survivor are portrayed with great sensitivity by Kevin Rahm, in the character of Thomas.
Faced with the prospect of losing his companionofsevenyears,Thomasisconfounded by his own weakness and by the practical horrors of loss. His headstrong friend Susanah-played perceptively by Valarie Dillman– is there to protect him, but finds herself also overwhelmed by the situation. Haskell Vaughn Anderson III provides provides some wonderfully light moments as Eddie the doorman, , though his purpose in the action is far from innocuous.
Through incisive writing and outstanding production, “A Question of Mercy” gets to the heart of the most basic human questions. As Gottlieb says in his director’s note, the play “becomes a spiritual journey-a reflection of how we feel about life itself, a crucible in which our heroism and our failing are revealed.”