The Mercy Swing
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 16, 2007
I've heard that women who have gone through childhood sexual abuse often either retreat into celibacy or dive into promiscuity. Rachel Daly, 26, the lead character of the play The Mercy Swing, seems to swing between both reactions. She lays her head on her gay male roommate's lap—and suddenly startles. She makes out with her new live-in boyfriend—and utters her abuser's name. We learn of her sexual adventurism and relational sabotages since high school—the fruit of her two-year grade-school affair of seduction / molestation / experimentation with a boy three years older.
Rachel, a GED teacher of pregnant teens, learns from her New York socialite mother Eileen that her old schoolmate Josh Reed will attend the political fundraiser to which Mom is dragging Rachel and roommate Billy Sullivan, a doctor. At the party, Rachel reconnects with Josh, now an accountant engaged to be married, and meets eligible bachelor Aaron Cohen, a waiter/actor. As Rachel and Aaron's romance grows, and as she prepares to lose Billy to a San Francisco job, Rachel recreates in her mind her clandestine meetings with Josh at the playground swing of their exclusive private school, Mercy. Emotionally overwhelmed, blocked from confessing what happened, Rachel delves into self-destructive choices, including another private meeting with Josh.
The Mercy Swing, written by Lane Bernes and directed by Richard Perez, creates much sexual and emotional tension, aided by interludes of tense dramatic music from a taped string quartet. The characters speak in wry, quick, overlapping dialogue, finishing each other's sentences. There are a few laughs, though I didn't find the "raucous humor" the play advertised.
Brynne Kraynak, in a gripping, complex performance, portrays the troubled young woman sexually arrested at age eight, stuck between feeling chosen and aroused and feeling used and ashamed. Kevin Dwyer's Josh, surprisingly sympathetic, is not an obvious creep, but a curious, unbridled young boy who doesn't realize what he's doing, and who has since grown beyond his past. Keith Chandler communicates Billy's concern for Rachel, but he's missing a medical doctor's constant air of authority. Eva Patton is very good as the frazzled, caring, yet overbearing mother, and Robert Berliner does well as the handsome, steady Aaron.
The rhythmic order of some scenes is "off"; could this play use one less contemporary scene and one more at the swing? I'm not being voyeuristic: the playground scenes are "PG-13," but perhaps we need to dig a little deeper into the developing emotional ties of this secret relationship. Also, in the swing scenes, Rachel as a third-grader wears a blazer, which I associate with high school. A wiser choice might be a cardigan with an emblem—or do ritzy private school girls wear blazers early?
Bernes has written an admirable play. However, it needs a little reordering and perhaps a little more revelation to bring The Mercy Swing to the level of excellence that this difficult subject deserves.