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4/7/2024     MERCURY         Actor’s Express




Paybacks are a bitch.  Karma is a harsh mistress.  We reap what we sow.  Revenge is a dish best served bloody.  Bears are there to “get” you.


These may all sound like the same general idea with subtle variations of nuance.  But in Steve Yockey’s intense and memorable Mercury, they are the backbone of what is (perhaps) a simple allegory about modern society’s propensity to judge and bite and fight and toss the shards of  sympathy, humanity, and simple listening into the shredder-bin of outdated human characteristics.


And yet, for all of that, the play is compelling and hopeful and exhilarating to witness.


I blame Mercury, especially if it’s in retrograde.


Pamela and Heather neighbors who are snarling at each other after the end of their affair (to which their hapless husbands remain oblivious).  Nick and Brian are a couple relocating to take care of Nick’s ailing mother, a move that brings out the worst in Brian.  Olive is their downstairs neighbor, who frequents a Portland curiosity shop for trinkets which have a propensity for making problem people disappear from her life.  Alicia is the proprietor of the shop, hoping against hope that her boyfriend (Sam) of {mumble mumble} years will get off his (bare) butt and put a ring on her finger.

These characters, being part of a Steve Yockey play, will (eventually) interact with pinball effect.  Some will meet well-deserved fates (maybe), others will test the “rules” of what is either hell or a mystical lair near the planet Mercury;  one may even find redemption, but, because it is a Steve Yockey play, that redemption will (probably) be soaked in blood, dripping with bear guts.


Or not.  I have a neurotic fear if I tell you any more details, I may find myself opening the wrong book and finding myself beneath what can only be described as a vengeful heating coil.  Or worse yet, confronting an angry (or at least hungry) bear (if not a bare-butt personification of cosmic karma).


Mr. Yockey's plays are filled with animal symbols that manifest in reality -- sea creatures, wolves, three-headed dogs, woodpeckers, thrushes -- all find their way into his scripts both literally and metaphorically.  Even The Flight Attendant – his television adaptation of someone else’s novel – has images of men with antlers.  Here, given the program credit for a “Bear Fabricator” (*), we know we will eventually see the bear that spooks Brian manifest itself in reality.


These are all people who are despicable in one way or another (Nick excepted – maybe).  But, in Mr. Yockey’s brilliant script, they can be (more or less) pleasant company.   Their wickedness is almost charming and their obliviousness to the effect of their actions is a true microcosm of twenty-first-century  America.  I am right!  If you have conflicting facts, then you are, by definition, immoral, evil, despicable, execrable, and deserving of an eternity under a heat lamp.  Or near a retrograde planet within the limits of the sun’s corona.  Or maybe even in the belly of a bear.


Director Melissa Foulger and her design team (Kat Conley – Set, David Reingold - Lights, Dan Bauman - Sound) have created a production that hits every note correctly, that builds its suspense honestly through performance and sound and effect.  Ms. Conley’s set is a turntable in front of a clockwork backdrop, a Contraption of Cosmic Karma, as it were;  transitions are accomplished by Alicia in full “Rosie the Riveter” regalia effortfully turning the set while projections and sounds evoke heavy machinery grinding into place.


 Yes, the wheels of destiny and fate are heavy indeed, making them unstoppable and inevitable. There will always be repercussions for bad behavior (at least in the Yockey-verse), and it sometimes takes coming nose-to-nose to naked eternal punishment to shock a person into a change in behavior and, eventually, fortune.


This is a terrific cast.  Suehyla E. Young and Kate Donadio start the play as Pamela and Heather, playing a couple whose connection may have been cut off too early, but who will forever be intertwined in each other’s fates.  Tyshawn Goodezn and Matthew Busch are terrific as Nick and Brian, giving us a couple who deserve better than they get.  Carolyn Cook is totally believable as the busybody neighbor who will go to extremes that are only gradually revealed to us.  And Donna Lobello and Louis Kyper are the oddest couple of the bunch, giving us Alicia and Sam whose dysfunction is so long-standing it is almost respectable.


It may take a few scenes for the different stories to intersect and overlap, but when they do, the play explodes with energy, throttling along at a breakneck pace until it reaches its inevitable clockwork conclusion.


Mercury is a play of extremes, extreme behavior, extreme twists of plot and character, extremes of revenge and punishment, and extremes of intensity and effect.  Steve Yockey writes like nobody else in the theatre.  He creates situations, often on the fringes of gay non-commitment, that resonate and throb with power and theatricality,  I ALWAYS look forward to his work, and I suspect this will be one of my favorites.  Let’s be honest, the Yockey-verse is never dull (though I’d hate to live there). 


Actor’s Express has put together a “repertory” of Yockey artists – Kate Donadio and Matthew Busch have been in prior productions, and this isn’t Melissa Foulger’s first time directing his work.  They bring to this play a comfortable penchant for the material, for the magical realism it embodies.  They make Mercury a total success, dramatizing the extremes of human behavior and emotion using the language of metaphor.  It is a brilliant construction of character and conflict, an exercise in character-specific dialogue and action, and a pure adrenaline rush of emotion and suspense.  I could easily bear every minute of it again and again for ever and ever.  There are worse ways to spend Eternity.


    --  Brad Rudy  (


#aeMercury  #SteveYockey

(*)  Nice work BTW from Ryan Bradburn

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