Thorny but flawed ‘Mercy’ debuts at New Jersey Repertory Company

Mercy review

PHOTOS BY SUZANNE BARABAS

Dan Grimaldi, left, and Jacob A. Ware co-star in “Mercy,” which is at New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch through July 15.

When “Mercy” begins, Orville (played by Jacob A. Ware) is really hurting, more than most people, perhaps, will ever hurt. His wife recently had been killed in a car accident, having been hit by a drunk driver. She had been pregnant, and their then-unborn daughter had survived.

“Nobody expected you to live. You are a miracle,” Orville tells her in the opening scene.

There are four characters in “Mercy,” which is currently having its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. And the play, written by Adam Szymkowicz, is about how the distraught Orville puts his life back together via his interactions with the other characters.

Orville’s father Walter (Dan Grimaldi) — a retired widower — is helping Orville take care of his daughter, whom Orville unrealistically refuses to name (a symbol of how he finds it impossible to move on after the accident). He also calls her “it,” and not “she.”

Orville is also shown returning to his office job — where his boss, Brenda (Nandita Shenoy), makes him uncomfortable by jabbering away, and flirting with him — and obsessing about revenge.

Jacob A. Ware, left, with Christopher Daftsios in “Mercy.”

The main relationship of the play is between Orville and his wife’s killer, Ian (Christopher Daftsios), whom he had not previously known. Orville seeks Ian out and befriends him, not telling him that he was the husband of the woman Ian killed. He’s seething with rage, and so acts oddly around him. Ian is not sure how to read him, and accepts his friendship, warily; he’s in rough shape himself, trying to gain control of his alcoholism, and can use a friend.

Will the usually mild-mannered Orville confront Ian, or try to harm him? It appears that he will have to do something, just to be able to live with himself. He buys a gun — and his father, unaware that he is in contact with Ian, worries that he will commit suicide.

Will Orville actually use the gun, on Ian or himself? He is on edge, and seemingly capable of anything. We watch nervously, not sure what’s going to happen.

Szymkowicz brings this storyline to a satisfying conclusion, and Daftsios does a good job at making Ian seem like a three-dimensional person, and not the monster Orville expected. Ian knows he has done wrong — not that that makes things better. He is also haunted by the past, but not as haunted as Orville wants him to be.

He tells Orville he’s trying to stay positive. This only adds to Orville’s rage.

Jacob A. Ware with Nandita Shenoy in “Mercy.”

So that’s a good, thorny relationship to build the play around. I also enjoyed Orville’s interactions with the wise, funny Walter — a bit of a rascal, who proudly tells Orville about how he uses his infant granddaughter to help him meet women in the park.

Then scenes with Brenda, though, were hard to take. She’s so unbelievably insensitive to Orville, and her budding affair with him is such an obviously bad idea, that she throws the play off its tracks. I keep saying to myself, “No one would really say something like that” or “No one would really do that” in her scenes, and that’s a real problem in a play that is trying to say something deep about human nature. And her scenes were Orville are a big enough part of the play that it wasn’t possible to just shrug them off.

“Mercy” is admirable in many ways. But this is a flaw that, sadly, makes a whole-hearted recommendation impossible.

“Mercy” is at New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch through July 15; visit njrep.org.

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