Grim “Mercury Fur” Properly Energized by Garage Theatre

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This play sounds like the worst thing I have ever heard. Please take me off your email list. I cannot imagine anything as horrid as something like this play. This is not what the world needs right now, especially my beloved Long Beach. Sounds like you have reached a new low.

So reads a response the Garage Theatre received to an audition notice for Mercury Fur, Philip Ridley’s semi-absurdist post-apocalyptic meditation on what we’ll do to get along in an increasingly desperate and depraved world. The offending lines in the play’s description refer to a small gang that “hold[s] parties for wealthy clients in which their wildest, most amoral fantasies are brought to life. The play centres on a party which revolves around the sadistic murder of a child, enacted according to the whims of a guest.”

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Mercury Fur is less about story (a couple of plot points don’t quite connect) than the mood/tension of physical/moral squalor in a climate of impending doom, which director Cat Elrod and company bring to uncomfortable life. Standing out in a cast without a weak link is David Daniel as Elliot, who retains just enough pre-apocalyptic memory and conscience to know he’d be better off dead than succumbing to the drive to care for his family at literally any cost. “It’s easier on the young,” he says. “They don’t remember how it used to be. […] Don’t you wish you could just bash the good shit out of your head?” Daniel so well interiorizes this crushing burden that we see it even in his silences.

As an ensemble, the cast most always feels real (i.e., within the bounds of Ridley’s semi-stylized universe), never falling into the all-too-familiar pattern of actors reciting lines at each other. At times the action is a genuine clusterfuck — exactly what the script calls for. Although the several moments of screaming and fisticuffs may be slightly hampered by the Garage’s small space, dialing it down would be the wrong move. If anything, the cast might do well to get a tad rougher with each other, even if they’re already pretty close to the line where someone could get hurt.

Mercury Fur’s biggest flaw is the nebulousness of its backstory. Don’t bother ruminating on the title —not a single line of text so much as implies meaning — and trying to tease out the nature and timing of the apocalypse quickly leads to nagging questions without answers. But Ridley’s greater aim is evocativeness, partly achieved through regularly pausing the action with sometimes graphic monologs, including Elliot’s little bro Darren’s (Vincent Zamora) orgasmic drug fantasy of experiencing JFK’s assassination through Jackie’s eyes/skin/vagina; and new friend Naz’s (Gabriel Pettinicchio) recollection of his sister’s murder/rape (in that order) on a supermarket floor at the hands/penises of machete-wielding marauders. This last bit is Ridley’s strongest prose, the impact of which is amplified by Pettinicchio’s hazy delivery.

The Garage’s Mercury Fur mise en scène is hit-and-miss. As the run progresses they’ll do better with lighting cues than they did opening night. Sound cues — almost always backing monologs — generally succeed, though one short sequence of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” into Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” feels cliché.

Ironically, the offended respondent to the Garage’s casting call might be surprised to find that it’s in the monologs, rather than any explicit onstage action, where Mercury Fur is at its most squirm-inducing, with the actual blood-and-guts tame compared to typical offerings by Quentin Tarantino or Martin McDonagh.

But with tension and chaos aplenty, Mercury Fur is not for the faint of heart. However, for those who don’t mind venturing for two hours into such a bleak world, there’s surely a ride to be had.

Mercury Fur at the Garage Theatre

Times: Thursday–Saturday 8:00 p.m.
The show runs through July 23

Cost: $18–$25 (Thursdays 2-for-1); closing night w/afterparty: $3

Details: thegaragetheatre.org

Venue: The Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach

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