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Two Plays Explore Themes of 9/11

Chris Roady (as Ben) and Crystal Gould (as Abby) in "The Mercy Seat."
photo: courtesy of MD Photography, LLC
Chris Roady (as Ben) and Crystal Gould (as Abby) in "The Mercy Seat."

Along with journalists and historians, playwrights can serve an important role in helping people make sense of national tragedies. And the results can weave narratives other sources might miss.

By Steve Walker


Kansas City, Mo. – This week, two Kansas City theater companies are staging plays coinciding with the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, yet they utilize that historic day in very different ways.

Sound: (ringing phone: "Brring...")

Neil LaBute's play, "The Mercy Seat" opens in pitch black with the haunting sound of a ringing telephone.

Sound: (ringing phone: "Brring...")

As we later learn, this call is coming from the wife of a man who worked in the Twin Towers. What she doesn't know is that he was playing hooky with his mistress when the planes hit.

Such is the set-up to LaBute's take on the events of 9/11, says director Matt Hentges.

"'The Mercy Seat' is a relationship between Ben and Abby, who because of 9/11 are presented with new crossroads...Ben and Abby were supposed to be at work at the World Trade Center on that fateful morning, but weren't," says Hentges. "So Ben, being the morally challenged character he is, like so many LaBute characters are, sees this as an opportunity."

In this scene, Ben and Abby, played by Chris Roady and Crystal Gould, express differing opinions about where they might go from there.

Sound: ambience from scene

"The Mercy Seat" opened in New York in 2002 to critical and commercial success. Matt Hentges explains that it might have been well-received because it wasn't a straight-forward narrative about a day that still left people feeling raw.

"Yes, it's about 9/11, but it's not in any way a tribute or memorial. This is not about the attacks, this is not about the terrorists; it's not about the victims or victims' families; it's not about the heroes," says Hentges. "It's about two anti-heroes and anti-heroes in kind of the worst way."

Opening this weekend at The Living Room is a dark comedy by Kansas City playwright Bryan Moses called "At the End of Apathy." It's about two young men who decide to protest world malaise with a joint suicide pact - a gesture as misguided as it is ill-timed. Their story unfolds on September 10, 2001.

Here, the guys, played by Sean Hogge and Bob Linebarker, have guns cocked to their chins and argue about who gets to do the countdown.

Sound: ambience from scene

Bryan Moses says it's no accident that his play opens on the weekend of the 10th anniversary.

"Ten years is a good marker (to look at) where we've gone," says Moses. "For me, those days, everyone knew where they were at, and checked in and said, 'This is where we are now,' and (this is) the idea of where it goes. There's something that joined us, united us, and then it slowly dissipated."

And actor Sean Hogge adds that the events of 9/11 can and should be artistically illuminated for those who were too young to grasp its gravitas.

"One of the ways we as a species explore something we're curious about is through art, says Hogge. "And so ten years is long enough that people now of a certain age can understand what was going on who really didn't get to experience it, and is the driving force of this new art that we may see and I hope we do."

Moses and Hogge both predict that after the 10 year mark of 9/11 passes, a wave of new plays will follow.

She&Her Productions presents
"The Mercy Seat" by Neil LaBute
September 8 - 17
River's Edge Theater
122 W. 5th Street (5th and Wyandotte)
Kansas City, Mo.

"At the End of Apathy"
September 10 - 26
The Living Room
1818 McGee
Kansas City, Mo.

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Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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