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The Mercy Seat: A Play Paperback – February 21, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


There is no playwright on the planet these days who is writing better than Neil LaBute . . . The Mercy Seat is . . . the work of a master. (John Lahr The New Yorker)

An intelligent and thought-provoking drama that casts a less-than-glowing light on man's dark side in the face of disaster . . . The play's energy lies in LaBute's trademark scathing dialogue. (Robert Dominguez Daily News)

Though set in the cold, gray light of morning in a downtown loft with inescapable views of the vacuum left by the twin towers, The Mercy Seat really occurs in one of those feverish nights of the soul in which men and women lock in vicious sexual combat, as in Strindberg's Dance of Death and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Ben Brantley The New York Times)

[A] powerful drama . . . LaBute shows a true master's hand in gliding us amid the shoals and reefs of a mined relationship. (Donald Lyons New York Post)

Uncomfortable yet fascinating . . . The Mercy Seat makes for provocative theater (sharp, compelling and more than a little chilling.")

LaBute's intriguing . . . new play . . . is most compelling when it is daring to look into [a] character's heart to explore the way self-interest, given the opportunity, can swamp all our nobler instincts. (Charles Isherwood, Variety)

In The Mercy Seat . . . LaBute has given us his most compelling portrait of male inner turmoil. (Brendan Lemon Financial Times)

LaBute [is] the dark shining star of stage and film morality. (Linda Winer, Newsday)

Sharply funny and incisive Seat is not a response to September 11, but a response to the response to September 11--an emotionally jarring consideration of the self-serving exploitation of tragedy for personal gain . . . Perhaps it's time we stop thinking of LaBute as a mere provocateur, a label that condescends to an artist of grand ambition and a nimble facility with language. With this gripping . . . new drama, he probes deeper than he ever has before. (Jason Zinoman, TimeOut New York)

A nihilistic yet brutally honest work . . . As complex and unfathomable as human motivations . . . The Mercy Seat is haunting. (David A. Rosenberg Backstage)

LaBute risks offending contemporary sensibilities by using a historic tragedy as his turning point for a drama regarding a morally empty American . . . [The Mercy Seat is] controversial and compelling. (Michael Sommers, The Star-Ledger)

LaBute . . . is holding up a pitiless mirror to ourselves. We may not like what we see, but we can't deny that--if only in some dark corner of our soul--it is there. (Jacques le Sourd The Journal News)

About the Author

Neil LaBute is currently at work on the film adaptation of his play The Shape of Things.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 69 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First edition (February 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571211380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571211388
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal LaBute's most recent works for the stage include This Is How It Goes (Faber, 2005) and Fat Pig (Faber, 2004), which won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off Broadway Play.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Touj on August 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
...of course, with plenty of LaBute's sometimes heavy-handed misanthropy. I originally began reading LaBute's plays after seeing Bash, and while I'll say that that one is better (everyone should read it!), I'll say that Mercy Seat is second only to that play for honest-to-god squirm-in-your-seat disgust at humanity's...human-ness.

Here in America, the gimme-gimme capital of the world, it's easy to pretend you don't see the poor, the sick, and the war-ravaged (especially since they're across the ocean). Then on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 America got a huge wake-up call--we were the war-ravaged for once. The Mercy Seat, set on Wedensday, September 12th, is a multi-layered examination of just how deep our image of concern for fellow man really went in those troubled days. According to Neil LaBute, not very far.

LaBute's play is the story of Abby Prescott and Ben Harcourt, two self-absorbed New Yorkers--that is, they were a day ago, before "9-11". Did the tragedy that befell their coworkers, friends, and family change their attitude? Not at all. In fact, their selfishness is what saved their lives; if Ben hadn't been cheating on his wife, they would have actually been at work like he told his wife.

With brutal honesty and the kind of cruel, biting wit, LaBute shapes the morning of September 12th and asks the sort of questions many Americans pretend they don't think about: If something doesn't affect you personally, does it affect you? Are your loved ones really more important than yourself? If you could, would you erase everything for the chance to try again--do it "right"--no wife, kids, responsibility?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Dewey TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 29, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm fascinated by arguing and the dynamics of arguments. The part I liked best about Labute's "Your Friends and Neighbors" was the arguing between Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener. That argument only lasted for about five minutes, so the fact that Mercy Seat is an hour-long argument is treat for someone like me.

This play has only two characters, and it is extremely fascinating and extremely complex. Ben Harcourt is Labute's typical Aaron Eckhart character. But I think that Abby Prescott's character type is new for Labute. She's a very smart, and seemingly genuine and nice woman.

Labute says in the introduction that this is his first play solely about relationships. He does an excellent job. My only recommendation is to skip Labute's introduction to the play until you've read it through once. It's an extremely cool intro, but I feel that it gives away too much of the plot.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "usesoapfightclub" on March 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Labute masterminded "In the Company of Men," "Your Friends and Neighbors," the absolutely brilliant, "The Shape of Things," now brings to the stage, "Mercy Seat". Set the day after September 11, "Mercy Seat" is the story of Ben Harcourt and Abby Prescott. Set in Abby's downtown apartment, the play explores their relationship and selfishness in light of a national tragedy. The ending, as any play from Labute--comes as a surprise, sadly, the climax is somewhat of a let down. I'm not going to give away the ending and I'm well aware of what the relationship is there to show/represent, but I think my biggest problem with, "Mercy Seat" was that I didn't care about that characters, through out the majority of the play there fighting or nagging at each other. It got to the point where I would rather them shut up, than reveal anything to progress the story. I like the idea behind "Mercy Seat," the thought that two people could be a couple of blocks away from this disaster and be so caught up in themselves... I just don't think it was executed as well as it could have been. In the end, we just don't care--there are bigger and better things going on outside that window and Ben and Abby...well, it seems like they're just there. If you've never read Labute, pick up a copy of "Shape of Things," you will NOT regret it. If you've never seen Labute, go out and rent, "In the Company of Men". If you LOVE Labute, go ahead with "Mercy Seat," it's not bad, it's still witty and clever, and the dialouge is just incredible--back and forth, back and forth, he really owns this relationship, but it's just not his best. This is character piece...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Aco on July 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am not much a LaBute fan, having experienced enough of his taboo pressing formulas, be it on stage or the screen, but The Mercy Seat came into my possession (remember that 2002 classic?) and I thought I'd give it a try.

I do wonder what the ultimate message of The Mercy Seat is for me. I ask because I have not instinctually cared, and this falls into LaBute's general mood of sensationalism. He does succeed in creating a kind of gray area within the September 11th experience, that speaks to LaBute's creativity and penchant for the seedy underbelly of us all.

September 11th is a benchmark day for the world and everyone in it at the time who was paying attention has an emotional and experiential connection to the event that was. This "relationship" is where the meat of LaBute's story, as a two-character-drama unfolds with a lingering unease about what was and is permissible under the marquee of Freedom or Escape or The Easy Life or The End of Adulthood or The End of Responsibility or The Returning To Youth or The Distance From Truth, etc., etc.

Better than expected. His characters are generally repulsive, meaning they must have some redeemable qualities, right? Don't we all? Or is this a liberal paradigm fraught with cheese holes?
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