The unfortunately titled The Mercy Swing (far too easily confused with Neil LaBute’s 2002 hit The Mercy Seat) showcases two powerful female performances. The Mercy Swing is about a young woman named Rachel who tries to negotiate an emotionally paralyzed and debilitating life in the wake of early sexual experiences with an older boy, both of whom were in grammar school at the time. Well-timed flashbacks to these experiences inform the momentum of the play. When we meet Rachel she is twenty-six and sharing an apartment in Williamsburg with her childhood friend, Billy, a gay doctor with whom she has always been in love. The problem with this play is that the audience is charged with believing that everything bad that has happened in Rachel’s life stemmed from her sexual encounters with Josh, a manipulative eighth-grade jock at the exclusive uptown Mercy School. Their secret meeting place is the swing in the playground of the school; thus the title. The play unfortunately brims with clichés and neat causal trajectories. Because of her early sexual encounters, Rachel is now condemned to a life of rooming with Billy, having promiscuous orgies with groups of plumbers and the starting line-up of the Staten Island Yankees, and sabotaging a successful relationship by being unfaithful to her boyfriend, Aaron, an idealistic young man who genuinely loves her. Of course, substance abuse is thrown into the mix: Rachel swigs from a bottle of alcohol stashed under her sofa cushions when things get just a little too unbearable.
Brynee Kraynak gives a strong performance as Rachel and Eva Patton is outstanding as Rachel’s outwardly progressive but interrogative and inwardly conservative mother, who longs to see Rachel in a stable relationship and soon married.
The humor in The Mercy Swing, and there is some, is crisp and witty. The play is riveting at times, particularly when Rachel and her mother engage in knockdown drag out verbal bouts that call out each other’s weaknesses and flaws. The play is unexpectedly successful in its confrontation with society’s views that the single unmarried woman who chooses to live with a friend must be damaged. And it confronts parental unwillingness to deal with childhood trauma. Only when Rachel’s pain comes pouring out does her mom suddenly thinks that therapy might be in order.
Despite its weaknesses, The Mercy Swing is worth seeing. It doesn’t shy away from a difficult topic, and Ms. Patton’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. Playwright Lane Bernes, an MFA candidate at The New School for Drama, is a promising playwright and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.